How we can mitigate the potential threat to data privacy in the metaverse

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In a short period, the metaverse has grown from merely a frequently talked-about concept to a looming reality. The idea that first made its appearance through a science fiction novel is set to dominate the world and revolutionize the way businesses, organizations and the whole internet is run. 

The metaverse is described as a three-dimensional virtual platform for social interactions between users and their virtual surroundings. While the idea of the metaverse has undoubtedly been met with enthusiasm, the emergence of said metaverse has also become a cause for speculation and concern.

Since the metaverse is a social platform utilizing interactive technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and machine learning, privacy advocates question its stance on privacy and security. One rising concern that has taken shape with the emergence of the metaverse is the likely impact it will have on data privacy and security. 

What does data privacy mean in the metaverse?

The new emergence of the metaverse that we now see rapidly becoming a part of the world has long since been an integral part of the gaming community. Games like Second Life, Pokemon Go, and Minecraft have existed as virtual platforms for social interactions. 

The security issues obvious within metaverses like Second Life and Minecraft are most likely to plague the metaverse, too, at a much larger scale. Already, the founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, along with many other security experts, has been vocal about Meta’s impact on data privacy. However, since the core concept is the same, it is possible to determine the potential data privacy issues that might be apparent within Meta. 

One main concern prevalent amongst all privacy advocates revolves around Meta’s parent company, Facebook’s, business model. It is no secret that Facebook is one of the most prominent collectors and hoarders of personal user information. Its business model is based on sophisticated advertising involving behavioral targeting with lots of surveillance and collection of personal information. Therefore, since Meta is promised to be a virtual platform, allowing users to lead a visual life within, the possibility of data collection and surveillance is likely to increase within it. 

What makes matters particularly dire is that the metaverse is set to function through virtual reality, augmented reality, machine learning and AI technology. Since these are behavioral-learning technologies, they collect massive amounts of personal information, threatening user privacy. Therefore, the use of such technologies within Meta is a significant danger to data privacy, considering its parent company’s business model. 

How metaverse data privacy issues might impact users

Privacy and security concerns have been part of the metaverse ever since Facebook introduced the idea. The problem prevails as Facebook has yet to provide the robust cybersecurity infrastructure it has designed for the metaverse. 

A survey highlights how people are concerned about the impact of the metaverse on their privacy. Among the surveyed, 50% are worried about user identity issues, 47% are worried about the forced surveillance that users might have to go through, and 45% are concerned about the potential abuse of personal information. Some of the possible ways that the metaverse might impact user data privacy are as follows:

  • Rise of phishing attacks, specifically after the emergence of phishing-as-a-service. These attacks could be in the form of malicious contracts designed to steal user information. 
  • Vulnerable AR/VR devices become the gateway to malware invasions and data breaches. A problem that is already prevalent in VR glasses. 
  • An absence of legal documentation protecting user identity. The use of avatars instills the idea of virtual identities that hackers can steal easily. 
  • Advertisers will collect user information through avatars that collect personal data as previously evident in Second Life. 
  • Since the metaverse will mimic reality, it is likely to collect tons of personal information, including brainwaves, biometric data, health information, preferences and more. 

With the presence of privacy concerns, there is a possibility that users might hesitate to adopt the metaverse. The only possible way that netizens might consider using the metaverse is by adopting the use of security tools such as VPNs, antivirus software, phishing protections, etc. 

Is there any way to address these concerns?

Since the metaverse is yet to make a proper appearance, little can be said on how to mitigate these issues. So far, people have their hopes aligned with Zuckerberg himself. He might build a staunch cybersecurity infrastructure for the metaverse and introduce methods to ensure data privacy and security. However, considering the privacy issues circulating the idea, there are a few ways that users, whether organizations or individual netizens, can ensure data privacy and security within the metaverse. 

Since collecting personal information and surveillance isn’t something that anyone apart from Facebook can control, organizations can regulate the use of such information. Any organization setting up virtual offices within the metaverse should have strict data privacy and security policies. The users should control the amount of personal information they are willing to share. 

Apart from that, organizations deploying the use of AR/VR devices or platforms should ensure that the risks of hack attacks, data breaches, and other adversarial attacks are strictly monitored. Similarly, these organizations will also need to plan ahead of adversarial AI attacks and enable security from them. 

Similarly, individual users becoming a part of the metaverse should remain vigilant of the amount and type of information they share. Moreover, it is crucial that they deploy the use of online security tools that are designed to protect users from privacy invasions and data breaches.

Final words 

Data privacy and security have long since been a matter of worry and concern for everyone worldwide. The rise in cyber attacks is a problem that privacy and security advocates try to mitigate. Amidst this, the emergence of the metaverse, although it is a revolution in technology, might also be a hazard to data privacy. However, with the potential for development it presents, it is crucial to address the data privacy and security issue within the metaverse. 

Shigraf Aijaz is a cybersecurity journalist at beencrypted.com and privacycrypts.com.

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