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Facebook wants to lean into the metaverse. Here’s what it is and how it will work – NPR

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Essentially, the metaverse is a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play.

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Essentially, the metaverse is a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play.

Laurent Gillieron/AP

The term “metaverse” is the latest buzzword to capture the tech industry’s imagination — so much so that one of the best-known internet platforms is rebranding to signal its embrace of the futuristic idea.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Thursday announcement that he’s changing his company’s name to Meta Platforms Inc., or Meta for short, might be the biggest thing to happen to the metaverse since science fiction writer Neal Stephenson coined the term for his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.”

But Zuckerberg and his team are hardly the only tech visionaries with ideas on how the metaverse, which will employ a mix of virtual reality and other technologies, should take shape. And some who’ve been thinking about it for a while have concerns about a new world tied to a social media giant that could get access to even more personal data and is accused of failing to stop the proliferation of dangerous misinformation and other online harms that exacerbate real-world problems.

What is the metaverse?

Think of it as the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen. Essentially, it’s a world of endless, interconnected virtual communities where people can meet, work and play, using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

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It also will incorporate other aspects of online life such as shopping and social media, according to Victoria Petrock, an analyst who follows emerging technologies.

“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life,” she said.

Facebook unveiled its new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

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Facebook unveiled its new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Tony Avelar/AP

What will I be able to do in the metaverse?

Things like go to a virtual concert, take a trip online, view or create artwork and try on or buy digital clothing.

The metaverse also could be a game-changer for the work-from-home shift amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of seeing co-workers on a video call grid, employees could join them in a virtual office.

Facebook has launched meeting software for companies, called Horizon Workrooms, to use with its Oculus VR headsets, though early reviews have not been great. The headsets cost $300 or more, putting the metaverse’s most cutting-edge experiences out of reach for many.

For those who can afford it, users would be able, through their avatars, to flit between virtual worlds created by different companies.

“A lot of the metaverse experience is going to be around being able to teleport from one experience to another,” Zuckerberg says.

Tech companies still have to figure out how to connect their online platforms to each other. Making it work will require competing technology platforms to agree on a set of standards, so there aren’t “people in the Facebook metaverse and other people in the Microsoft metaverse,” Petrock said.

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Is Facebook going all in on the metaverse?

Zuckerberg is going big on what he sees as the next generation of the internet because he thinks it’s going to be a big part of the digital economy.

Critics wonder if the potential pivot could be an effort to distract from the company’s crises, including antitrust crackdowns, testimony by whistleblowing former employees and concerns about its handling of misinformation.

Former employee Frances Haugen has accused Facebook’s platforms of harming children and inciting political violence after copying internal research documents and turning them over to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

They also were provided to a group of media outlets, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public.

Is the metaverse just a Facebook project?

No. Other companies talking up the metaverse include Microsoft and chipmaker Nvidia.

“We think there’s going to be lots of companies building virtual worlds and environments in the metaverse, in the same way there’s been lots of companies doing things on the World Wide Web,” said Richard Kerris, vice president of Nvidia’s Omniverse platform. “It’s important to be open and extensible, so you can teleport to different worlds whether it’s by one company or another company, the same way I go from one web page to another web page.”

Video game companies also are taking a leading role. Epic Games, the company behind the popular Fortnite video game, has raised $1 billion from investors to help with its long-term plans for building the metaverse. Game platform Roblox is another big player, outlining its vision of the metaverse as a place where “people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”

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Consumer brands are trying to jump on the trend, too. Italian fashion house Gucci collaborated in June with Roblox to sell a collection of digital-only accessories. Coca-Cola and Clinique have sold digital tokens pitched as a stepping stone to the metaverse.

Will this be another way to get more of my data?

Zuckerberg’s embrace of the metaverse in some ways contradicts a central tenet of its biggest enthusiasts. They envision the metaverse as online culture’s liberation from tech platforms like Facebook that assumed ownership of people’s accounts, photos, posts and playlists and traded off what they gleaned from that data.

“We want to be able to move around the internet with ease, but we also want to be able to move around the internet in a way we’re not tracked and monitored,” said venture capitalist Steve Jang, a managing partner at Kindred Ventures who focuses on cryptocurrency technology.

It seems clear that Facebook wants to carry its business model, which is based on using personal data to sell targeted advertising, into the metaverse.

“Ads are going to continue being an important part of the strategy across the social media parts of what we do, and it will probably be a meaningful part of the metaverse, too,” Zuckerberg said in a recent company earnings call.

Petrock she said she’s concerned about Facebook trying to lead the way into a virtual world that could require even more personal data and offer greater potential for abuse and misinformation when it hasn’t fixed those problems in its current platforms.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps

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With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

As per Meta:

Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption

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Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

  • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
  • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
  • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
  • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
  • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
  • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

Meta messaging security options

Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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