Human Lives Human Rights: In today’s world, something that seems is going to revolutionize our online lives, is the metaverse.
In a Metaverse as conceived by Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg, you cannot even scratch your virtual nose without the permission of a program, which is controlled completely by the company.
There is no standard for virtual worlds. Every single one of them is crafted as a set of technologies known only to the proprietor, to the extent that moving virtual limbs and seeing with virtual eyes is the equivalent of freedom of movement in a virtual world, no one who enters into a Metaverse of any kind has any autonomy.
Every move, in this world is at the discretion of the digital controls of corporations such as Meta that reserve the right to refuse freedom of movement to anyone.
Given the situation that the Metaverse doesn’t yet exist, there is reason to believe it is all vaporware that will fail to materialize. The time to start thinking about the ethical issues of The Metaverse is now.
There is every indication that Zuckerberg and other meta-world creators will seek to trivialize autonomy by proffering consumer choice as an alternative.
The pitch for The Metaverse by Zuckerberg is that you can be whatever you want, with creators offering different wardrobes and such. But choosing a particular hue of skin color, like choosing which emoji one wants, is not control. And it is not autonomy.
Every identity in a virtual world is the creation of a private database. The individual human being has no control over that database. They can pick from a menu, and in Zuckerberg’s world, perhaps they will even be able to propose what goes onto the menu. But at the end of the day, people have no veto power. What the corporation decides is final.
In other words, you can be anything you want in The Metaverse, you just can’t be in control.
Imagine if your entire existence, and what you think of as your identity, were cancelable by a corporation. There’s a term for that. It’s called being a slave.
On a broader level, Meta’s properties, Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp, don’t connect to the rest of the Internet. To exist in any of those spaces is the equivalent of existing only when browsing in a store. You leave FBR store, you cease to exist.
People don’t really exist in social media, and they will not exist in a Metaverse. Their identities are the figment of a database. People type things into a Web form and they have the illusion that they have an identity.
With no control and no autonomy, they have no identity in any meaningful sense. They are merely pawns of the database owner. Similarly, any action in The Metaverse will be an illusion of autonomy and bodily integrity.
It is not hyperbolic to say that social media’s ambition in the Metaverse is to replace the open Internet. Zuckerberg’s claim, now repeated several times, is that The Metaverse will “be the successor to the mobile Internet” and “the next version of the Internet.”
If a commercial entity wants to replace the open protocols of the Internet, then the world must not only reassert those protocols but take them farther by bringing them to the realm of human digital autonomy.
The reality is that most people don’t want Zuckerberg deciding their future for them.
If activity is going to take place in virtual worlds, it’s time for society to push back on commercial interests by asserting human autonomy in a way that protects it from the most predatory interests.