The metaverse, not yet launched, already dark

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The metaverse, not yet launched, already dark

60 seconds. All it took was 60 seconds in the metaverse for Nina Jane Patel’s visit, as she writes, to turn into a surreal nightmare.

This Londoner, specialist in virtual reality, had just entered the virtual world of Meta (the new name of the Facebook group) to carry out tests. Hardly had she had time to adjust her VR headset, which looks like a large ski mask, and to position her hands around the joysticks, when 3 or 4 strangers – 3 or 4 male avatars, corresponding virtual characters to real users like her – literally fell on her: a verbal and physical aggression, virtual but so real, that she describes as “gang rape“. She was even photographed, partly naked, by her attackers as she tried to escape them.

The only way out for Nina was to turn off her helmet and take it off. This testimony (let us specify all the same that it is unverifiable in the absence of witnesses) sends shivers down the spine, whereas the metaverse is only accessible to a handful of users. When we know that virtual reality was precisely designed so that the mind and the body can no longer tell the difference between what is happening in the real world and in virtual universes, we measure the trauma of this woman, so taken off guard that she couldn’t get to safety.

Indeed, there is a way to protect yourself in the metaverse of Meta called Horizon. This is where Nina Jane Patel was when she was assaulted but she was unable to activate this security device. Since his attack, the rule has changed.

Oculus, the manufacturer of virtual reality headsets which Facebook acquired in 2014 and which gives access to Horizon, announced it on February 4: this individual bubble which maintains 2 avatars at 1m30 minimum, one of the other, is now activated by default, to protect participants but also to prevent Facebook, which does not need it at the moment, from another very bad buzz.

Beyond the immediate interest of Mark Zuckerberg’s group, there is obviously a much longer-term issue: preventing the metaverse from becoming a lawless zone is one of the conditions for its future success. . And it is also the risk highlighted by the aggression of Nina Jane Patel.

The metaverse is likely to attract all those who seek to take advantage of the discretion it offers to prosper illegally. In the metaverse, you can change your name, gender, appearance: a dream for traffickers and money launderers. For terrorists, the metaverse could also become both a recruitment and training platform, but also a target and therefore, the new field of expression for a reinvented cyberterrorism.

Fortunately, all is not dark in this embryo of metavers. On February 6, 2022, an Indian couple got married virtually in front of a crowd of avatars made up of their relatives and friends: the 2,000 guests could not have physically attended the party, due to restrictions linked to the Covid-19, which has already killed more than 500,000 people in the country.

For music lovers, Foo Fighters will give a free concert in virtual reality, on Horizon Venues, next night (Sunday February 13 – Monday February 14, 2022) at 4am (Paris time). And so, let’s not bury the metaverse too quickly. According to Meta, who nevertheless wishes to go very quickly, it could take 15 years before it reaches maturity.

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