Facebook whistleblower warns Metaverse will repeat ‘all the harms’


Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has taken aim at Meta in a new interview, suggesting that its version of the Metaverse will simply repeat all of its past mistakes.

In an interview with Politico, Haugen said:

“They’ve made very grandiose promises about how there’s safety-by-design in the Metaverse. But if they don’t commit to transparency and access and other accountability measures, I can imagine just seeing a repeat of all the harms you currently see on Facebook.”

In 2021, Haugen leaked thousands of internal documents from Facebook to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and The Wall Street Journal. Her experience working for the company has left her with concerns about privacy issues and letting the corporation amass data about every aspect of user’s interactions in the Metaverse.

“I’m super concerned about how many sensors are involved. When we do the Metaverse, we have to put lots more microphones from Facebook; lots more other kinds of sensors into our homes,” she said.

“You don’t really have a choice now on whether or not you want Facebook spying on you at home. We just have to trust the company to do the right thing.”

Haugen isn’t the only one concerned. According to a recent survey, 70% of people don’t trust Meta to handle privacy properly.

Andy Yen, CEO of encrypted email service ProtonMail, is also concerned with the unilateral powers of big tech giants like Meta. Last week, he said in an interview that his own company, Proton, will only be able to survive based on the goodwill of tech giants.

“Tech giants could today remove us from the Internet with zero legal or financial repercussions,” he said.

Yen has also raised concerns about Big Tech controlling the Metaverse in the past, telling Newsweek last year that Meta was “building a new infrastructure where they control everything. They control the device, they have the VR headsets, you’re now in their world, on their devices, on their platform.”

Yen said that given their track record, he doesn’t believe we should trust Meta with power like that and that promises around privacy in the Metaverse are useless unless its business model changes.

“At the end of the day, their business model revolves on taking your data and monetizing it. So, there is fundamentally always going to be a conflict between what they say and what they actually have to do to make money.”

Data collection

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Like Yen, it believes that virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses and other wearables will make data collection and surveillance easier than ever before. In December, they stated:

“This data harvesting, sometimes done by companies with a history of putting profit before protections, sets the stage for unprecedented invasions into our lives, our homes, and even our thoughts.”

The EFF is concerned that data collected and used for targeted advertising will generate “biometric psychography” and that our deepest desires and inclinations will be up for sale. Once the information has been collated, third parties could monetize the data, even without our knowledge or agreement.

The China syndrome

While the Metaverse may seem like an issue for the distant future, in China, citizens are living it every day in a different way.

WeChat is the social media platform of choice in China. It has a mind-boggling user base of over one billion. Of those, 850 million are active users. The application is amassing data about users in China on a scale never seen before. And, the Chinese government can monitor every word, picture and video on it.

WeChat came under heavy criticism from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) before the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year. RSF urged journalists to protect themselves against Chinese surveillance while reporting. They said, “RSF recommends journalists who travel to China to avoid downloading applications that could allow the Chinese authorities to monitor them.” These included WeChat and TikTok.

Imagine having that power over the Metaverse.