The Value Implications of Ethics in the Metaverse

Jhe metaverse is not yet a concrete reality, but there is no denying that its vision as an immersive 3D world will affect all aspects of our personal and professional lives, from socializing and working to entertainment, learning and even more.

Any activity you currently do in physical space can be done virtually; and will allow activities that are currently limited in physical space (like flying like a bird). In addition, not only will you be able to interact between different virtual spaces, but these virtual spaces will also interact with and impact the physical spaces as well. Although it may seem impossible, almost everything we imagined has come true.

The metaverse opens up a range of opportunities, as well as a number of risks and a variety of issues and ethical concerns. Most ethical concerns are issues we have encountered in our non-digital lives, such as privacy, socio-economic inequalities, accessibility, identity control, freedom of creative expression, etc.. These are not new issues; they just reflect society as it is.

Ethical issues have existed for centuries, and humanity has only recently begun to address them. With this new technology, new concerns may emerge, such as access to biometric data or brain waves, which could be unscrupulously used to control people’s thoughts and behavior; or using multiple (and different) identities on multiple (and different) metaverse spaces.

Data is more than text and images

Biometric data

Biometric data is already available via virtual reality headsets; it refers to data that can track a user’s surroundings, physical movements, and dimensions. Through headsets and goggles that let people access the metaverse, companies can track eye movements; in which virtual environments a person goes; what body movements they make; how long they stay in an environment; and their physiological response to an experience, such as their heart rate.

There have been several incidents in recent years where apps have exposed personal and even medical information of millions of Americans, in one instance even exposing patients’ HIV-positive status.

This is undoubtedly very private and sensitive data that should be under the control of the individual, and the individual should have the ability to decide whether or not to share this data and with whom. If companies have access to this data, they must ensure that they not only secure it, but also use it appropriately to help the individual or improve their skills, rather than manipulating the data or using it for their own purposes. profit.

BCI brain waves

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) will soon be a way to access the metaverse. BCIs can be worn on the head like headphones, on the wrist or through glasses. BCI technology tracks brain wave patterns and infers thought processes through machine learning algorithms. A direct link to someone’s brain opens up new types of data to collect and analyze. Having control of people’s brains through their thoughts and behaviors can be devastating, even deadly, if used without scruples.

Brain-computer interface companies such as Neurosity have designed their headsets with safety in mind: “Brainwaves are automatically translated into encrypted metadata by the N1 chipset.” Therefore, if the person is using Neurosity headsets in the metaverse, marketers will be able to tell how someone is accessing it, whether through VR headsets, AR glasses, or BCIs, but personal thought patterns must be protected.

Deepfakes and alternative representations of reality

Companies will need to invest in cybersecurity to avoid data scandals and potential brand manipulation. Deepfakes, hacked avatars, and manipulated objects are some of the types of malicious behavior companies will need to watch out for.

For example, MIT and Mozilla released a deepfake video that shows President Nixon announcing that Apollo 11 had failed its mission to the moon. This video of a kind of alternate reality has received a lot of coverage and helped to deepen the conversation about deepfakes and ethics.

Protect digital twins

In the metaverse, it is not only people who will be virtualized, but also physical objects. For example, buildings, objects in the house, items in a store will all be digitally represented through a virtual twin in the metaverse. This virtual representation raises some ethical concerns:

  • Who will decide which of these objects are acceptable to be recreated digitally? Would it be regulated? Or open to creative freedom?
  • Could anyone see a virtual twin in the metaverse? For example, if a house with all of its personal items is in the metaverse, could anyone enter it or only the real owners? And if it’s just the real owners, how would that be overseen and monitored?

Protecting Children in the Metaverse

What happens in the metaverse doesn’t stay in the metaverse. We already know that what people experience in virtual reality impacts their memory, can desensitize them, or make them feel like they’ve done something before, even if they’ve never done it in reality. Marketing to children should be treated with much more care than marketing to adults, and especially in the metaverse.

Theoretically, anyone can be anything in the metaverse, but it’s still important to know key information, like a person’s age. Even if someone looks like an adult in the metaverse, companies are responsible for identifying whether they are dealing with an actual adult or a child. The responsibility should lie with the company and not with the user.

Identity and ethical concerns

Anyone can use any avatar to build their identity on the metaverse, because creative freedom knows no bounds on the platform. Freedom of creative expression allows people to choose between avatars regardless of background, but not all avatars are in equal demand. According to research, dark-skinned and female avatars are in less demand among users, raising concerns about racial and gender representation in the metaverse, which could also be related to lack of access for certain populations.

Discrimination based on race and gender is not a new problem. In an environment where individuals are free to choose what their avatar would look like, the decision may be based on unintended inherent colorism and sexism, which endangers representation in the metaverse, especially in combination with unequal access to these virtual spaces.

The main concern is that brands might be able to break out of the diversity agenda that many are required to enforce in real life, which could create two possible outcomes:

  • One possibility: Brands can abandon this agenda and recruit only a particular type of visual on the metaverse. This would harm a balanced representation in the metaverse and contradict its own values.
  • The second possibility: Brands may be able to use the metaverse to disguise their true intentions of not adhering to genuine equality policies in real life. The metaverse can serve as a facade to hide their lack of diversity, which could seriously harm society and all the progress we’ve fought for.

Reputation risk and value implications

If you want to invest in the metaverse, you can do one of the following:

  • Invest in metaverse applications traded on a crypto exchange such as Decentraland with the token symbol MANA; or the sandbox with the symbolic symbol SAND
  • If you are not into crypto and prefer to use traditional financial products, there are several metaverse funds issued and managed by different financial institutions. Examples are metaverse funds managed by HSBC, Fidelity, Axa Investment Management and Invesco. There are also exchange-traded funds (ETFs), such as VERS or FMET.

As you compare and walk through the investment decision-making process – looking at the components (i.e. the companies that make up the fund or ETF) – you should, among other things, consider any risk reputation that may derive from a company. or a brand that does not respect the ethical concerns mentioned above.

This may not be reflected in the company’s current value, but may have future implications, if the company (or brand) neglects to address them. Do your due diligence and look beyond the hype associated with the metaverse.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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