Facebook’s ‘metaverse’ evolution is very scary | #itsecurity | #infosec

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday that the company will be rebranding itself as Meta, with a new focus on the “metaverse” (a concept for a new internet focused on virtual spaces) and virtual reality products. All jokes about “metadata” and “metastasized harms” aside, this rebranding move shouldn’t take attention away from the very real problems Facebook has failed to fixed.

We can barely trust tech platforms with the internet. We certainly can’t trust them with virtual reality.

Critics might argue that Facebook’s rebranding comes at a convenient time. Some might even speculate that the timing handily deflects from a few weeks of negative media surrounding the social media giant. Facebook has been experiencing more than its share of controversy recently: Whistleblower reports have raised concerns including online harassment, child safety issues and even threats to democracy. A new name and new corporate structure could help push away some of the bad press and negative associations the public might have with the embattled social media company.

But the damage runs deep. Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, testified at a Senate hearing about what she said were her former company’s failures in protecting children and teenagers online. Haugen also worked with journalists at the Wall Street Journal, which published “The Facebook Files,” an exposé that shocked the world. More recently, hundreds more documents have been obtained by a consortium of journalists around the country, who have been reporting on even more negative stories about Facebook.

Regardless of what name it goes by, the company formerly known as Facebook has many problems it must fix. But this name change signals that it will not be able to solve them, and in fact may be unwilling to do the work necessary to find solutions.

Will people give up Facebook, now that we know what we know? It may be time to imagine the post-Facebook and post-Meta internet. We need to consider how to foster an environment that would allow small startups and nonprofit organizations to develop meaningful alternatives to Facebook, to boost competition, which would in turn shift the larger technology companies toward better experiences for users, as well.

If the Meta rebranding is Facebook’s way of truly pivoting away from social media and fully toward virtual reality, that’s even worse. We can barely trust tech platforms with the internet. We certainly can’t trust them with virtual reality. As we increase the use of virtual reality and augmented reality technology, we blur the line between cyber and physical spaces.

Imagine online harassers yelling at you all throughout your day, wherever you go, regardless of whether your phone or computer are on or off. Imagine a company like Meta choosing to block you from access to a virtual reality space the way that Facebook can block you from using its website and app. The law simply isn’t ready to govern these problems, and technology companies have not proven themselves to be trustworthy stewards of a new virtual reality.

The law simply isn’t ready to govern these problems, and technology companies have not proven themselves to be trustworthy stewards of a new virtual reality.

Meta’s suite of products — including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus — occupy a sizable share of the modern internet. But these aren’t the only technology platforms with problems that could impact all of society. While Facebook receives a large share of scrutiny from the public and regulators, much less attention is paid to platforms like YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok (though all three were brought to task at a Senate hearing earlier this week). Every technology platform faces problems with online speech, privacy and misinformation. No platform has perfectly solved for these problems, and every company must do better.

Facebook is not alone in its failure to protect users. It’s not even alone in rebranding itself. Google restructured its organization in 2015 to become Alphabet. Like Facebook’s rebranding, Google’s restructuring may have been motivated by political reasons. With a new organizational structure that clearly delineated the different product sectors, Google may have attempted to avoid antitrust scrutiny — a concern that is likely shared by Facebook, which has also faced antitrust pressure.

Legislators and regulators must act now to protect us against the harms of current internet platforms and the future of virtual reality. Companies should not be able to evade antitrust pressure by simply rebranding, and they should certainly not be able to avoid responsibility for online harms simply by changing their name. The newly revitalized Federal Trade Commission, led by FTC Chair Lina Khan, should enforce consumer protection and pro-competition laws against Facebook and other large technology companies that are not in compliance with current regulatory standards.

Policymakers seeking to rein in Big Tech also need to be careful that they don’t harm small startups and nonprofit organizations in the process, both in the interest of maintaining a competitive technology marketplace as well as to protect the vibrant and open internet. It may even be time to consider what a public internet would look like and how governments might be able to offer some online services to the public as alternatives to private technology platforms.

We don’t live in the metaverse yet, but it’s disturbing to think that any of us would eventually live in a world entirely controlled by a loosely regulated technology company like Facebook (or Meta). We need better laws for the internet as we know it, but we also need laws that will be able to protect us if and when virtual reality becomes a real, tangible part of our lives. If we want to keep up with virtual reality, updating our current laws on privacy and online harms is the top priority.

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