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  • Writer's pictureGemma Walton

What Will Data Protection Look Like In The Metaverse?

Updated: Apr 25

The first step in providing data security and privacy on a metaverse is building privacy-preserving technologies from scratch. Privacy in the metaverse needs to be heavily considered and protected, by users as well as companies, who need to begin to incorporate privacy by design as they design technologies that we are so dependent upon. All of these things combined will go a long way to creating a metaverse that is secure, privacy-sensitive, and user-regulated. The technologies used within a metaverse will extend current, extensive data collection and usage. But what will data protection look like in the metaverse?

What Will Data Protection Look Like In The Metaverse

We can expect companies in the metaverse to gather personally identifiable information to identify individuals, advertise, and monitor them across a variety of channels, such as wearable devices, microphones, heart and breathing monitors, and user interactions, in ways that we have not seen before. One aspect of a metaverse that has raised concerns about privacy is the large amounts of personal data that may be collected about participating individuals. Naturally, the risk of sensitive or private data being stolen increases as users infuse more personal data into the metaverse. As with all new technologies, data privacy will become an increasing issue as the metaverse continues to develop.

With the development potential that the metaverse presents, it is critical that data privacy and security issues are addressed in the metaverse. One growing concern which has taken form since the advent of said metaverse is the possible effect the metaverse would have on data privacy and security. For purposes of dissecting the potential data privacy pitfalls in a metaverse, it is useful to begin by thinking about it as an extension of our existing digital public square.

Because it would simulate reality, it is very possible that the metaverse would gather vast amounts of personal information, including brainwaves, biometric data, medical information, preferences, etc. Since the Meta is promised to be a virtual platform that allows users to live visual lives inside it, there is a chance that data collection and surveillance is going to be increased inside of it. Since the basic concepts are similar, the potential data privacy issues that may manifest themselves in the Metaverse can be identified. Given the concerns about privacy circulating around this idea, there are several ways users, both organisations and individual web users, could enforce data privacy and security within the metaverse.

Just as many websites have better controls these days, giving users the ability to opt-out of data sharing, the metaverse projects need to provide users with explicit ways to secure their data, biometrics or otherwise. Beyond this, the storage, handling, and protection of users data is an issue Metaverse creators need to be asking themselves. User data management should be essential in discussing the vast amount of data metaverses utilise in order to operate.

As such, policies for the collection, storage, access, and usage of data within a metaverse (or, depending on how interoperable the digital world is, metaverses) will be critical in determining how much this data may be misused. Consider that the metaverse will be filled with vast amounts of data, interchangeable at lightspeed, and much of that vast amount of data is extremely sensitive. Taking cues from China, which has been leading the way with its Shanghai data exchange, the metaverse could, and should, use this ability to govern the vast amount of data that will be collected within the virtual world.

Metaverses could deploy systems that provide users full transparency into how systems are collecting and using users data, and also into which data is being collected. Like social media platforms, privacy issues will be a focus for metaverses as they evolve and start gaining wide user adoption. Given renewed interest in the metaverse due to Facebooks recent rebranding as Meta, it may be worth exploring what the metaverse could mean for our data privacy rights.

Data privacy is going to be an enormous concern for anyone looking to get into the metaverse, and in facing off against Meta, which has its own history of poor data use, new developers need to stress privacy as a major selling point. By emphasising privacy, and reassuring users their data will not be used against them, smaller Metaverse companies get a unique selling point, and an advantage even, against any big tech companies looking to get in on the Metaverse, including Meta. However, any vision for a Metaverse will increase the privacy concerns in real-world situations, since I/O devices may be collecting qualitatively new, more intimate data.

Creating an avatar is necessary for one to live in the metaverse and coexist, as well as for performing activities that entail sharing and disclosing even more data to technology corporations.

Data Protection In The Metaverse

As a users portal into all interactions within the metaverse, avatars within the metaverse could also provide platforms with lots of personal data to harvest, particularly if their technology stack involves biometric data, such as tracking users facial features and expressions to use in the avatars self-expressions. New I/O devices allowing users access to the metaverse are able to gather biometric data, ranging from conscious bodily movements, eye blinks, and emotional data. Companies are able to track physiological responses and biometric data, like facial expressions, voice inflections, and vital signs, in real-time as participants are inside their own metaverses. The infrastructure underpinning a metaverse--virtual-reality glasses and augmented-reality software, to name just two--will depend on mountains of data showing users interacting with their surroundings in imaginary worlds, digital workplaces, virtual doctors appointments, and other places, said Kavya Pearlman, the founder of XR Safety Initiative, a non-profit group that advocates the ethical development of immersive technologies.

If we do not build in strong data controls and safeguards, this can subject individuals using the metaverse to over-collection of data and misuse of their data and privacy. If the metaverse is available to children (which is likely), additional guidelines would probably need to be provided by privacy regulators to ensure that meaningful consent is obtained. Companies operating within the metaverse must establish processes for responding to such requests, because the vast amounts of data available on consumers within the metaverse could heighten consumers appetite for exercising their consumer rights to opt out.

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