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Is Facebook leading us on a journey to the metaverse? | Virtual reality

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The concept of the “metaverse” first came from the 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash as a place that people flee to escape a dangerous corporation-dominated world. It has since come to refer to a range of virtual experiences that have gained popularity during the pandemic – including video games such as Fortnite, non-fungible tokens or even online meetings and events.

But in recent weeks the term has gained new traction – and concern over its potential ethical and societal implications – after Mark Zuckerberg said that in five years, Facebook would be a “metaverse company” and declared it the “successor to the mobile internet”.

Sharing his vision of what it might look like, the founder and controlling shareholder of the $1tn (£750bn) company described an online world where people wearing VR headsets – Facebook also owns Oculus, the virtual-reality platform – would not just view content but be inside it. It would be an online space built by companies, creators and developers in which people could also live their lives – virtually going to performances and even work.

Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minsiter is leading Facebook’s lobbying campaign to control  the new virtual world.
Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minsiter is leading Facebook’s lobbying campaign to control
the new virtual world.
Photograph: Oliver Dixon/REX/Shutterstock

In Washington, Facebook’s political push to promote the metaverse is reportedly already in full flow. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and Nick Clegg, its vice-president for global affairs and communications, are leading the lobbying campaign. On Monday, Clegg is set to lay out the company’s plans for how the metaverse could reshape society in a talk entitled Journey to the Metaverse.

According to the Washington Post the company is in conversation with thinktanks about metaverse standards and protocols – a move that some observers say allows the company to shift discussion away from issues such as the antitrust lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission last year.

But experts fear that with regulation still struggling to catch up with the impact of the first wave of social media, the metaverse is likely to be a way for companies like Facebook to capture and profit from even more data. They also warn that more foresight and government protections are needed to counter the risk of the space, and people’s lives, being overrun by big tech.

“I know it’s not necessarily a popular view but I do think that the harms that we see after the fact, for children especially but also for adults, are sufficiently worrying that it would be more sensible to work to put in place governance arrangements – checks on transparency, on data protection, etc, and harms, especially to children – before these companies are permitted to come forth,” said Robin Mansell, professor of new media and the internet at the London School of Economics.

While to most people the metaverse is an abstract term, internet giants are already investing much hope – and money – in it. Facebook recently launched a virtual-reality meeting service, Horizon Workrooms, where people gather remotely wearing headsets and meet as if they were physically there in an online virtual meeting space.

It has also launched Ray-Ban Stories, its first “smart glasses” featuring two cameras, a microphone, speaker and voice assistant. Meanwhile, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has said the company is heavily investing in the “enterprise metaverse”.

Mansell said the social-political issues associated with the metaverse will be identical to those on existing social-media platforms, such as Facebook – including data, surveillance, regulation and representation of gender, race and ethnicity. But in the immersive world of the metaverse, they will be on a far larger scale. She believes tech giants should be forced to wait before launch until there is “clarity about how they’re going to be governed”.

“For me, it seems like it is simply another step in the monetisation of data to the benefit of Facebook and other large platforms sold to people as fun, exciting, helpful for productivity at work and so on,” she said.

Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern School of Business in New York, said Zuckerberg is at the heart of why the metaverse is attracting attention. “The notion that he’s decided that the only way to increase our attention is to become the universe is one of those problems when you sit back and ponder on it too long, it feels like it could go nowhere good.”

He added: “I don’t think people are scared of the metaverse, they’re scared of the Zuckerverse. And that is what he has accomplished in social media. There are more people who get their information from Facebook than people in the southern hemisphere plus India.”

Dr David Leslie, ethics theme lead at the Alan Turing Institute in London, said the metaverse would offer an “escape hatch” out of dealing with society’s biggest problems.

Mark Zuckerberg predicts Facebook will be a ‘metaverse company’ in five years.
Mark Zuckerberg predicts Facebook will be a ‘metaverse company’ in five years. Photograph: REUTERS/Alamy

The concept, he said, poses ethical questions around everything from who builds and controls it, the risk of losing “the safe space of private life”, and an unrepresentative virtual population. “There is a risk that in terms of a socioeconomic, gender, ethnic makeup, the populace of the metaverse may be imbalanced. We don’t live in a time where there’s equitable access to the sorts of infrastructure that one would need to engage in these technologies.”

Dr Brent Mittelstadt, senior research fellow in data ethics at the Oxford Internet Institute, said the potential social impact of the metaverse is far from certain. “If it were as disruptive as, say, people going on virtual dates rather than meeting up, to be able to say what effect that would have on the nature of relationships would be very difficult in the same way that predicting the impact social media would have had when it was just being talked about as an idea.”

But, he said, if Facebook manages to get you to spend lots of time there, it is accomplishing its goal of collecting more data and monetising it. “Suddenly you have more data sources than currently exist being combined and funnelled through this one thing – the metaverse. And if Facebook gets its way, then you’d obviously be spending a significant chunk of your time on there.”

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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