IRVINE, California (NewsNation) — The Metaverse is a futuristic new frontier, and an estimated 64 million Americans will be venturing through virtual reality by the end of 2022. However, many describe the metaverse as a “wild west” for privacy and can cause personal data problems in this reality.
It metaverse often described as an immersive internet and a virtual reality boom is underway in gaming, fitness, education, and commerce.
“You know it’s just going to be another version of humanity doing interesting things with technology — both good and bad,” said Don Heider, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “It’s the ‘wild west’ now, so the question is, how will it be regulated? How responsible will the company be?”
According to research by the University of California, Berkeley, the company has collected a lot of data from people in the metaverse.
“What VR is basically, what the metaverse is at its core, is a stream of data about yourself that comes out into the world,” said Vivek Nair, a student at the University of California, Berkeley.
Nair and the Berkeley research team confirmed that by developing what appeared to be a harmless game.
“On my journey through a series of virtual spaces, vast amounts of personal data are revealed through my every move, reaction and response.”
Developers can also determine the dimensions of the room you’re actually in in real life and even the type of computer you’re using.
Meanwhile, security experts warn that anyone who wears this gear to enter the metaverse will soon be exposed to a whole new world of potential adversaries.”
“If I were an enemy, I could use the image I have of you to understand your age, your gender, your location, all of your demographics, and maybe even pinpoint who you are,” Nair explains.
Students in the Santa Clara University Imaginarium lab developing a VR program, well aware that targeted advertising is driven by data collection. Most who venture into the metaverse often agree to the terms without a second thought.
“Even in terms of service because it’s been so long, many of us skim,” says Trisha Nguyen, a Santa Clara University student.
The various metaverse communities are thriving, with new users joining every day.
“Pandora’s box has been opened and it’s been a great adventure, but you have to be a little careful,” said Anthony Lupo, chairman of law firm ArentFox Schiff.
There are no set laws or signs of enforcement, but many virtual law firms are setting up shop and seeking new clients.
“We have to figure out how to navigate this Wild West to figure out who to chase,” said Lupo. “Say you have a decision against someone, you don’t even know who that person is; they could be in North Korea for all you know. Good luck implementing it.”
Heider explains: “We think the metaverse is fair, oh we could just go in there and understand it and get a culture and sell a lot of products, but we’re not going to do that by moving to another country, right? And on the one hand, VR is another country.”
As a first line of protection, Berkeley researchers are developing MetaGuarda tool that allows users to use incognito.
“There’s enough randomness added to the process that the adversary can’t make precise enough measurements to tell exactly who you are,” Nair said.
Since the metaverse is still in its infancy, guardrails and security tools are still in development but to come.
“If we get to that point, then we will be in a very similar situation to the web where there are still risks but they are manageable and the benefits outweigh them,” Nair said.
Meta declined an interview request but responded with a link to a blog post outlining its security tools and features.
It is estimated that by 2026, one in four people will spend at least an hour in the metaverse every day.