For Your Data’s Sake: An Open Metaverse or a Data Silo?

Erick Pinos, Americas Ecosystem Lead at Ontology, argues that decentralised identity solutions have the potential to assist with the upholding and safeguarding of individuals’ data.

Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook was rebranding to Meta in October 2021 fast-tracked awareness of the metaverse worldwide. The fact that one of the biggest, most talked about companies in the world was committing its future to this nascent concept captivated public attention – birthing a growing interest into investigating and understanding the many facets of this burgeoning ecosystem.

This growth, however, has brought with it a number of serious considerations. In particular, one issue which has dominated the sphere is the question of whether the metaverse should be centralized or decentralized. As yet, it remains to be seen what impact an open or closed metaverse will have for data collection and protection on the web. Without a decentralized metaverse and the use of relevant protective measures such as decentralized identifiers, we may be headed into even darker days of data hoarding by monopolistic entities.

Meta operates on a centralized business model, where decisions are made by a select few individuals. Conversely other virtual realities, such as Decentraland, leverage Web3 infrastructures like blockchain technology with the specific goal of decentralizing power and decision making. These platforms ultimately have an end goal of transferring ownership of these virtual spaces from Big Tech firms back to individual users, in order to combat a variety of the misuses of power synonymous with Big Tech.

Unsurprisingly, the area which has dominated metaverse discourse thus far involves both data privacy and data security. Personal data and by extension, personal privacy, have become perhaps two of the most valuable commodities in the market. Individuals have become increasingly cautious of their online presence and wary of exploitation by firms that harvest their data and sell it on to third parties – with little regard for the upkeep of personal privacy. If the metaverse is to achieve mass adoption, leaders in the space must ensure that it does not fall victim to the same ills that plague Web2.

At present, tech companies are collecting data from our interactions in a 2D space, for example, as we view a website. However, in the metaverse, a whole new level of spatial interaction is introduced to the equation, which simply did not exist before. This new dimension brings with it a wealth of information – things like eye and hand movements, and a user’s interactions with the physical space and objects that comprise a virtual world. These data points have the potential to be a gold-mine for centralized corporations, and worryingly, an all new privacy concern for consumers.

As we are still in the early phases of the metaverse, it remains to be seen how this dilemma will unfold, however, there remains hope that a decentralized metaverse will pave the way for a new age of data ownership and security. There are a number of measures that currently exist, or which are in development, that can alleviate these concerns in existing metaverse frameworks.

In particular, decentralized identity solutions (DIDs), have the potential to assist with the upholding and safeguarding of individuals’ data. They endeavor to achieve this goal by employing blockchain technology to create a digital identity that will be transportable across virtual worlds, and crucially, which is owned, and controlled, by the user. DIDs can be employed for a variety of purposes including identity verification, validation of digital assets, voting, and KYC. Of particular relevance to the metaverse is the fact that DIDs allow users to share only the personal data that is necessary to complete any given transaction, and further, they allow for this data to be revoked at a later date. This means that companies are far less capable of stockpiling banks of information that is neither necessary nor beneficial. On the whole, this means that this technology has huge potential to return data ownership back to individuals, and transform the malpractices which are currently the status quo.

However, this lofty task does not come without its own concurrent difficulties. For DIDs to be truly effective, then they will need to see far wider adoption than that which we are currently witnessing. Moreover, one of their key potential benefits arises by virtue of their theorized cross-platform functionality; and while this is an appealing prospect, the interoperability of these new forms of identity is still a work in progress, with plenty of room for improvement to be made to existing infrastructures. All in all, this means that while the future prospects of DIDs are favorable, much work still needs to be done in this realm to achieve the necessary standards to enable them to safeguard consumer data in the manner in which they hope to.

With Citi estimating that the potential market size of the metaverse could range anywhere between $8 trillion – $13 trillion (£6.3 trillion – £10.3 trillion) by 2030, it is of the utmost importance that leaders in the space do everything in their power to ensure the metaverse is decentralized, open, and private, and not conducive to data hoarding and similar unethical behaviors. If this is not the case, there will be severe and irreversible consequences for our personal privacy; little will remain hidden from the watchful gaze of Big Tech corporations.

By Erick Pinos, Americas Ecosystem Lead at Ontology, a project bringing trust, privacy and security to Web3 through decentralised identity and data solutions.

Guest Contributor
Guest Contributor
Follow on Twitter @eWeekUK

Popular Articles