Bloomberg has estimated that the metaverse market might grow to a whopping $800B by 2024.
So, that's a lot of people, using a lot of platforms, performing a lot of transactions, talking to a bunch of people. And what comes from all of this interaction? Well, data of course.
But the metaverse, and Web 3.0, have an opportunity to start from scratch. We're in this situation for the mistakes of Web 2.0 giants, who farmed data and exploited trust, to their heart's content.
So, how can the marketers of the future (and present) prepare for the data of the metaverse, both in terms of its scale, its potential, and its risk?
The Metaverse raises plenty of privacy concerns. This is due to the vast amount of personal data that can be collected on everyone using any part of the space.
The interconnected, vast, global space. Plus, compared to traditional social media, metaverse platforms can gather much more intimate details on the users, due to the immersive nature of the tech, and the length of time it'll be used. No case of just popping onto Twitter to fire off a couple of angry posts in two minutes, then logging off and escaping the wrath of your followers.
This depth of info will be extremely valuable for brands. It'll help them gain a deeper understanding of user behaviour, which can be used to tailor advertising campaigns in a targeted way. Think what the Internet of Things is doing currently - mapping your customer's behaviour in a 3D way.
Plus, at the corporate level, CIOs are coming around to the idea of the Metaverse. However, most are still adopting a wait-and-see approach, and are instead focusing on more deployments of AI to aid in their innovation and digitisation efforts. But, with the increasing security of data, and a way to utilise it safely and effectively, they'll be pushed further towards the Metaverse as a genuine concept.
So, let's jump in.
Advertising in the Metaverse
Third parties will be able to more naturally drive content in front of users in the metaverse. That might be billboards down a virtual highway, or a non-playable character standing on the pavement using the product.
There might even be people approaching players to talk about a product in a casual way. Think product placement and influencers on a meta-scale. In a way, metaverse advertising could blur the line between real and fake content.
"In the metaverse, you may not be able to distinguish between authentic content you came upon in the world, augmented or virtual, and paid content that was injected specifically for you, personally targeted by AI algorithm," said Louis Rosenberg, a 30-year veteran of AR development, and the CEO of Unanimous AI.
"So restricting this is important."
Invasive data collection, and consumer trust
Given the immersive nature of VR and AR headsets and technologies, companies could look into deeply personal, and invasive, parts of their customers' lives. This could be their blood pressure, eye tracking, breathing rates, or other health aspects. Think about everything your smartwatch can do, but even more in-depth. And creepy.
A company could examine your heart rate, for example, which might increase when you see something interesting.
Then, like on social media, companies could then take that data and sell it to advertisers, who could then spring up a pop up featuring a relevant product. So, this becomes a case of your own personal health information used to tailor ads toward you. Plus this data could also be used to inform the companies' algorithms to keep you on their platform longer.
Privacy and Security of Data
It's not just about how these companies will source the data, but how they will store the data once they get it.
As we've mentioned, many mistakes were made in Web 2.0, with the explosion of portable tech, mobile, and social media. Basically, data privacy was thrown out the window. It eventually led to the revelations of scandals such as Cambridge Analytica. All this meant any tryst in Big Tech was lost, and the shine of the technological revolution wore off sharpish.
The Data Protection Act of 1998 was only followed by GDPR in 2018. This meant it took 20 years to upgrade a more comprehensive set of regulations. If this neglectful approach is kept, web 3.0 is likely to repeat the same mistakes as Web 2.0
Thing is that the Metaverse, like the current internet, will likely be controlled by a handful of powerful corporations. Already we're seeing the prevalence of big companies in the space:
- Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has recently said that his company is working on building the "enterprise metaverse."
- Epic Games reported a $1B funding round to support metaverse ambitions, pushing the Fortnite founder's valuation to nearly $30B.
- Mark Zuckerberg has expressed his vision for turning Facebook into a "metaverse company," even stating that he began thinking about the concept in school.
- Venture capitalist Matthew Ball helped launch an exchange-traded fund so people can invest in the metaverse space, including companies like Nvidia and Roblox.
Via the metaverse platforms and products, these companies will keep track of what customers will watch and look at. This means privacy regulations are vital.
In fact, Rosenberg has said companies should be required to inform you if they assess exactly where you're looking in the metaverse.
As he recently wrote for Venturebeat, the software providers "should not be allowed to store this data for more than the short periods of time required to mediate whatever experience is being simulated. That will reduce the degree to which they can characterise our behaviours over time."
So, it's imperative that data is collected ethically and cannot be used for malpractice. This could be performed by a wealth of automated systems that would be introduced to protect data integrity in virtual worlds, and even protect against scammers.
But what we can guarantee is that the data collected will be accurate and untampered. Unlike data centres, blockchains are digital ledger technology, which creates new blocks when there are transactions of any kind on the network. So, compared to other networks where data can be manipulated, the data in the metaverse is unchangeable. This can be useful for both users and companies alike, as the information is as accurate as it can be.
Training Data for AI-Based Platforms
AI is certainly going to be the backbone of the metaverse. It is vital for ensuring the interpretation of real-time data, and providing actionable results. The metaverse will rely on quick, real-time responses and events, in order to feel immersive and enjoyable.
The only thing is this: current AI technology, where Alexa can predict behaviours, note current environmental factors, or customer preferences, will be far too simple for the metaverse.
So, high-quality training data will be required to build platforms which are heavily driven by AI or for AI-based programmes, especially on decentralised networks.
The data that is required to train a platform to perform metaverse-relevant actions must be sourced or developed. Most of this data will be new. For example, the data needed to train an AI to correctly identify fraudulent activities or malicious acts must be found or generated, which could be difficult due to there being very few ways to bypass blockchain methods. However, already companies such as Meta are training AI to identify threats and abuse to protect various users in the metaverse.
As we've said, the metaverse will capture masses of data, mine it, and act on it instantly. So, the tools used today will not be enough. Plus, there's a risk of challenges such as unmanageable amounts of data sources, and siloed data.
The metaverses will keep expanding and innovating at an exponential rate. By 2032, it is estimated that just the metaverse alone will have increased our current data usage by 20 times. So, more modern data solutions must be adopted.
The current architecture will certainly not be scalable to tap into the wealth of resources required for the metaverse. If we head towards a more decentralised metaverse, it is likely we will rely heavily on distributed technology such as blockchain. In contrast, centralised metaverses controlled by Meta will probably be cloud-based.
But either way, the ability to ensure the data captured at one section of the metaverse, can be reflected in all parts of the user's experience, wherever they move in the space.
If companies do not prepare for the processing and utilising of this data, then it will be hard to keep up. The flow of data will have grown intensely, and the generated data will reach incredible numbers. So, data platforms must be developed to handle this data, so that businesses are able to collect and process internal or third-party data to gain insights or power other processes.
In the case of having a vast number of metaverses, it is going to be tricky to enable interoperability. So in order o enable this, data collected by one entity in the metaverse will have to flow seamlessly between different operators and platforms.
As this improves, so will the customer experience. Consumers will be allowed to move digital assets and avatars between platforms and across the metaverse. So, software developers and brands will need to establish multilateral data sharing agreements to improve the seamlessness of the consumer experience.
This is not completely alien from the system we have now. The current environment sees databases being bought and sold between a variety of companies, brands, and social media sites.
However, these transactions have conditions which must be met. For example, one requirement under many data protection laws is that the receiving party's privacy notice must be provided to an individual shortly after it receives the data, to explain to the person how their data will be processed and used.
Though it will become increasingly difficult to meet these conditions in the metaverse, where data exchange is far more vast, in both the speed and multitude of participants.
One solution might be the introduction of a central administrator of the metaverse, to give users a clear description of how their data will be used, and give them the option to opt out. However, data protection regulators have expressed a dislike for the "catch-all" bundled approach.
Metaverse Data Laws
Section 230 has given internet platforms protection from being liable for content that people post, in cases such as User-Generated Content. But as Dov Greenbaum — a law professor at Israel-based IDC Herzliya — recently wrote, it might not apply to this new virtual space.
"If the Metaverse fell outside the scope of Section 230, it would force Congress to enact a whole new law better tailored to the realities of emerging online interactions."
In many locations, data protection laws place different obligations on companies, depending on whether they determine the purpose and means of processing personal data, or just process personal data on behalf of others.
So, in the metaverse, establishing which entity has responsibility for determining how and why personal data will be processed, and who will process personal data on behalf of another will not be straightforward. It will likely involve untangling a web of relationships and connections, and there may not be an obvious answer. For example, like we've mentioned above, will there be:
- One main administrator of the Metaverse, who collects all personal data provided within it, and who determines how that personal data is processed and shared?
- A more decentralised approach, where multiple entities collect personal data through the metaverse and who must determine their own purpose for doing so?
So, companies must ask a number of questions, such as "how should these entities each display their own privacy notice to users?", "should this be done collaboratively?", "how and when should users' consent be collected?", "who is responsible for data being lost or stolen?", and "what data sharing processes need to be put in place, and how will these be implemented?"