The term “metaverse” seems to be everywhere. Facebook is hiring thousands of engineers in Europe to work on it, while video game companies are outlining their long-term visions for what some consider the next big thing online.
The metaverse, which could spring up again when Facebook releases earnings Monday, is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination.
It could be the future, or it could be the latest grandiose vision by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that doesn’t turn out as expected or isn’t widely adopted for years — if at all.
Plus, many have concerns about a new online world tied to a social media giant that could get access to even more personal data and is accused of failing to stop harmful content.
Here’s what this online world is all about:
WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?
Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.
It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.
“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life,” she said.
But keep in mind that “it’s hard to define a label to something that hasn’t been created,” said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst who tracks immersive technologies for research firm Gartner.
Facebook warned it would take 10 to 15 years to develop responsible products for the metaverse, a term coined by writer Neal Stephenson for his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash.”
WHAT WILL I BE ABLE TO DO IN THE METAVERSE?
Things like go to a virtual concert, take a trip online, and buy and try on digital clothing.
The metaverse also could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing co-workers on a video call grid, employees could see them virtually.
Facebook has launched meeting software for companies, called Horizon Workrooms, to use with its Oculus VR headsets, though early reviews have not been great. The headsets cost $300 or more, putting the metaverse’s most cutting-edge experiences out of reach for many.
For those who can afford it, users would be able, through their avatars, to flit between virtual worlds created by different companies.
“A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another,” Zuckerberg says.
Tech companies still have to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other. Making it work will require competing technology platforms to agree on a set of standards, so there aren’t “people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the Microsoft metaverse,” Petrock said.
IS FACEBOOK GOING ALL IN ON THE METAVERSE?
Indeed, Zuckerberg is going big on what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he thinks it’s going to be a big part of the digital economy. He expects people to start seeing Facebook as a metaverse company in coming years rather than a social media company.
A report by tech news site The Verge said Zuckerberg is looking at using Facebook’s annual virtual reality conference this coming week to announce a corporate name change, putting legacy apps like Facebook and Instagram under a metaverse-focused parent company. Facebook hasn’t commented on the report.
Critics wonder if the potential pivot could be an effort to distract from the company’s crises, including antitrust crackdowns, testimony by whistleblowing former employees and concerns about its handling of misinformation.
Former employee Frances Haugen, who accused Facebook’s platforms of harming children and inciting political violence, plans to testify Monday before a United Kingdom parliamentary committee looking to pass online safety legislation.
IS THE METAVERSE JUST A FACEBOOK PROJECT?
No. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that “no one company” will build the metaverse by itself.
Just because Facebook is making a big deal about the metaverse doesn’t mean that it or another tech giant will dominate the space, Nguyen said.
“There are also a lot of startups that could be potential competitors,” he said. “There are new technologies and trends and applications that we’ve yet to discover.”
Video game companies also are taking a leading role. Epic Games, the company behind the popular Fortnite video game, has raised $1 billion from investors to help with its long-term plans for building the metaverse. Game platform Roblox is another big player, outlining its vision of the metaverse as a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”
Consumer brands are getting in on it, too. Italian fashion house Gucci collaborated in June with Roblox to sell a collection of digital-only accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique have sold digital tokens pitched as a stepping stone to the metaverse.
Zuckerberg’s embrace of the metaverse in some ways contradicts a central tenet of its biggest enthusiasts. They envision the metaverse as online culture’s liberation from tech platforms like Facebook that assumed ownership of people’s accounts, photos, posts and playlists and traded off what they gleaned from that data.
“We want to be able to move around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to move around the internet in a way we’re not tracked and monitored,” said venture capitalist Steve Jang, a managing partner at Kindred Ventures who focuses on cryptocurrency technology.
WILL THIS BE ANOTHER WAY TO GET MORE OF MY DATA?
It seems clear that Facebook wants to carry its business model, which is based on using personal data to sell targeted advertising, into the metaverse.
“Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too,” Zuckerberg said in the company’s most recent earnings call.
That raises fresh privacy concerns, Nguyen said, involving “all the issues that we have today, and then some we’ve yet to discover because we’re still figuring out what the metaverse will do.”
Petrock she said she’s concerned about Facebook trying to lead the way into a virtual world that could require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation when it hasn’t fixed those problems in its current platforms.
“I don’t think they fully thought through all the pitfalls,” she said. “I worry they’re not necessarily thinking through all the privacy implications of the metaverse.”
UK to block Facebook parent Meta’s $315M acquisition of Giphy
It is expected that the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will reverse Facebook parent company Meta’s purchase of Giphy in the coming days, according to the Financial Times.
If that happens, it will mark the first time that the country’s competition regulator has unraveled a major tech acquisition.
Meta (Facebook previously) announced in May 2020 that it bought the GIF platform with the goal of rolling it into Instagram. Reports set the price of the deal at $400 million.
As such, Meta has previously argued that because Giphy doesn’t have any operations in the UK, the CMA has no jurisdiction in this case. In addition, it claimed Giphy’s paid services couldn’t be classed as display advertising according to the CMA’s market definition.
“After failing to compete with new innovators, Facebook illegally bought or buried them when their popularity became an existential threat,” Holly Vedova, acting head of the U.S.’ Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) competition bureau, said in a statement.
The FTC filed a revised complaint against the firm just weeks after a judge threw out its original case in June. The judge had accused federal regulators of failing to provide enough evidence that Facebook created a monopoly in the social networking space.
The CMA opened an investigation into the deal the following month after it raised concerns about the acquisition. The regulator declared in August that the deal could prevent rivals such as TikTok and Snapchat from accessing Giphy’s library of GIFs, as well as removing a potential competitor to Meta in the UK advertising sector.
Meta ended Giphy’s paid ad partnerships, which the CMA said ceased the company’s ad expansion, including to other countries. Also, the watchdog suggested Meta could be forced to sell the service, having until December 1st to publish its final decision.
The UK regulator fined Meta, in October, more than $67.2 million for a “major breach” of an order to remain separate from Giphy during its investigation. The fine was the largest ever handed down by the agency. This step was taken after the regulator accused Meta of “consciously refusing to report” information about the merger.
Australia plans laws to make social networks identify trolls
In a step meant to set restrictions on social media platforms, the Australian government is planning to introduce laws that force social media platforms to “unmask” online trolls despite experts saying it will do little to reduce online abuse.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed plans for legislation that could force social networks to reveal the identities of trolls and others making defamatory comments. A complaint mechanism would require online platforms to take these hostile posts down, and if they don’t, the court system could order a given site to provide details of the offending poster.
“Digital platforms, these online companies, must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content. There needs to be an easy and quick and fast way for people to raise these issues with these platforms and get it taken down,” Morrison said on Sunday afternoon.
The PM’s announcement of the anti-troll social media legislation comes two months after he said social media platforms were a “coward’s palace” and declared that they would be viewed as publishers if they are unwilling to identify users that post foul and offensive content.
In addition, the proposed laws would also make it mandatory for social media platforms to have a standardised complaints system that allows defamatory remarks to be removed and trolls identified with their consent.
As such, Digital Rights Watch executive director Lucie Krahulcova, made some remarks regarding these laws, saying they are not focused on pursuing people who libel, malign, harass, or commit similar crimes online.
“They’re not actually very excited about enforcing [existing laws] on behalf of women, people of colour, and historically I think there’s plenty of evidence of that in Australia,” Krahulcova said.
The laws, if passed, would also redirect the liability for potential defamation from organisations running a social media page to social media platforms instead.
Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash explained the attempt to shift defamation liability is in response to the recent Voller High Court case, which set a legal precedent where Australians who maintain social media pages could be publishers of defamatory comments made by others on social media even if they did not know about the comments. Since the ruling, media outlet CNN disabled its Facebook page in Australia.
Nissan investing in electric vehicles, battery development
Nissan said Monday it is investing 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) over the next five years and developing a cheaper, more powerful battery to boost its electric vehicle lineup.
The Japanese automaker’s chief executive, Makoto Uchida, said 15 new electric vehicles will be available by fiscal 2030. Nissan Motor Co. is aiming for a 50% “electrification” of the company’s model lineup, under what Uchida called the “Nissan Ambition 2030” long-term plan. Electrified vehicles include hybrids and other kinds of environmentally friendly models other than just electric vehicles.
The effort is focused mainly on electric vehicles to cut emissions and meet various customers’ needs, said Uchida. Nissan also will reduce carbon emissions at its factories, he added.
The company has been struggling to put the scandal of its former Chairman Carlos Ghosn behind it. Ghosn, who led Nissan for two decades, after he was sent to Japan by French alliance partner Renault, was arrested in Tokyo in 2018 on various financial misconduct charges.
Uchida made no mention of the scandal but referred to “past mistakes” he promised won’t be repeated at Nissan.
Nissan’s “electrification” rests on developing a new ASSB, or all solid state battery, that it categorized as “a breakthrough” for being cheaper and generating more power than batteries now in use.
That means electric powertrains can be more easily used in trucks, vans and other heavier vehicles because the batteries can be smaller. The ASSB will be in mass production by 2028, according to Nissan.
The costs of electric vehicles will also fall thanks to the battery innovation to levels comparable with regular gasoline cars, Uchida said.
“Nissan has emerged from a crisis and is ready to make a new start,” he said.
All top automakers, including Nissan’s Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., are working on electric vehicles, amid growing concern over climate change and sustainability. Global consumers are also demanding more safety features.
Uchida said Nissan was hiring 3,000 engineers to strengthen its research, including digital technology for vehicles.
Nissan, based in Yokohama, Japan, has suffered recently from the computer chips shortage that’s slammed all automakers because of lockdowns and other measures at chip factories to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The maker of the Infiniti luxury models, Leaf electric vehicle and Z sportscar is projecting a return to profitability for the fiscal year through March 2022 after racking up two straight years of losses.
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