we need to talk about facebook and meta

We Need To Talk About Facebook and Meta

On 28 October 2021, Facebook’s CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg announced that they will be consolidating all their products and services under Meta. Facebook will still exist but it will now be under the Meta umbrella with Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus and others. This is similar to what Google did when they announced Alphabet.

Although we will be referring to the company as Meta for the rest of the article, always remember that the people and principles behind Meta are essentially the same as Facebook.

What Does Meta Mean?

First, “Meta” was chosen as the holding company’s name as it means “beyond” in Greek. Meta aims to go “beyond” what Facebook and their other social technology have already done. They wish to move from 2D towards immersive experiences like AR and VR. They want to be the frontier for how we interact with each other in the future and gain market share to keep out competitors.

Secondly, Meta also comes from the word Metaverse. The term “Metaverse” was first coined in a 1992 novel, Snow Crash. In the novel, humans interact with each other virtually via avatars in ways not possible in the physical realm.

You can change your looks or sit on the couch with your friend that is on the next continent. Business meetings, going on a holiday, playing games, studying in schools and much more is all possible in the Metaverse. You are only limited by your imagination (and of course, the software and hardware that is available). It will be so immersive and look so real that the lines between the physical and virtual realm will be blurred. To better visualize what this means, you can look at the trailer for Ready Player One, a novel that was made into a movie.

Source: YouTube

What Is Meta Trying To Achieve?

Meta’s focus will be to make the metaverse a reality. Their role will be similar to the company running “OASIS” in Ready Player One.

This is the Oasis. It’s a place where the limits of reality are your own imagination. You can do anything, go anywhere. Like the Vacation Planet. Surf a 50-foot monster wave in Hawaii, you can ski down the Pyramids, you can climb Mount Everest with Batman. Check out this place. It’s a casino the size of a planet! You can lose your money there, you can get married, you can get divorced, you can…you can go in there. People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay because of all the things they can be: tall, beautiful, scary, a different sex, a different species, live action, cartoon, it’s all your call.

-Wade Watts, the protagonist in Ready Player One

In the beginning, Meta will probably touch on business meetings, remote working, social gatherings, shopping and gaming. The Metaverse end game could possibly be the next leap in social technologies where possibilities are literally limitless.

Is Metaverse The Future?

I highly recommend reading and watching both the book and film “Ready Player One” to better appreciate the Metaverse. The Metaverse, when fully implemented, might be how we interact with each other in the future, making it the next technological leap after the founding of the Internet. Physical limitations like distance will no longer limit us. The only physics we need to be concerned about is game physics. To reach the end game, there are certain criteria that we need to fulfil.

Hardware, Software And Infrastructure

The hardware and software must be able to support what the Metaverse is trying to do, an immersive experience to do whatever your heart desires. Will we have enough computing power in a chip to process the computations needed that can fit in a headset so we can just access the Metaverse without heavy equipment? High speed, low latency internet will also be needed to gain the full experience of the Metaverse.

Affordable For Mass Adoption

Access to the Metaverse should be affordable or else only the rich will harness the benefits of the Metaverse. Just like the internet, those that do not have access are at a severe disadvantage. There can be different grades of equipment just like in Ready Player One where the equipment can range from just a headset and gloves to a full haptic-feedback suit and a capsule.

Interoperability

If there are multiple “pockets” in the Metaverse created by various communities or corporations, to have a seamless experience, one should be able to move between pockets easily.

However, from experience, some groups might want to lock users in their ecosystem, like how Apple and Google have their app stores and Apple and Microsoft have their own separate operating systems. Each player would want their own pocket of the “Metaverse” to be the place to go. We’ve already seen legal battles over the boundaries of ecosystems in cases like Apple and Epic. The number of active users on any platform is directly linked to the value of that platform. There is also the network effect that can shut down any potential competitors as few people will want to participate in a “pocket” that only has a fraction of the total participants.

Just like how some projects are helping bring Blockchain interoperability to allow for cross-chain transactions, hopefully, there will not be one player to dominate the entire Metaverse space and prevent any third parties to come up with tools to link the different “pockets”.

Oculus, the VR tech company under Meta, have made logging in via Facebook mandatory previously before you can use the product that you purchased. They say that they might remove the need to log in via Facebook soon but I won’t be holding my breath.

List Of Companies Under Meta

Facebook has acquired at least 78 companies over the past 15 years.

Besides the companies that we are familiar with, e.g. Instagram, Whatsapp, Oculus VR, there are other companies that can be potentially linked to Meta making the Metaverse a reality.

Company (Year Acquired In) Technology
ProtoGeo (2014) Records And Tracks Physical Activity
WaveGroup Sound (2014) Audio production
Wit.ai (2015) Voice Recognition
Two Big Ears (2016) Immersive Audio
Facemetrics (2016) Facial Emotion Detection
Ozio (2017) Conversational AI
Confirm.io (2018) Biometric ID Verification
Vidpresso (2018) Interactive Video
Chainspace (2019) Blockchain And Currency
CTRL-labs (2019) Gestures Into Computer Input
Beat Games (2019) VR Gaming
PlayGiga (2019) Cloud Gaming
Sanzaru (2020) Immersive Gaming
Scape Technologies (2020) Augmented Reality
Lemnis Technologies (2020) VR/AR Headset
Downpour Interactive (2021) VR FPS
Unit 2 Games (2021) Game Creation
BigBox VR (2021) VR Ecosystem
AI.Reverie (2021) Synthetic Images And Videos
Within (2021) VR Exercise

They tried to push for their own Facebook cryptocurrency via a consortium with big players like Paypal, Mastercard and Visa. 4 months after the official announcement, many of the companies left the consortium for unknown reasons. They have since rebranded to Diem. Some kind of digital currency will be also important for paying for products and services in the Metaverse. It is not a subsidiary of Meta but they still have close ties to Meta.

Meta is expecting to spend more than US$10 billion on Metaverse-related development and acquisitions in 2021 alone. You can keep track of the list of acquisitions on Wikipedia.

Why Did Facebook Rebrand To Meta?

On a call with The Verge, Mark states that they are moving more from a “Facebook” first company to a “Metaverse” first company. It was also confusing for the name of the company brand to be the same as one of the products under this brand.

However, sceptics say that the rebrand is to disassociate the company from all the scandals Facebook has been hit with, especially after the release of the Facebook Papers leaked by a whistleblower in the company. That is why I mentioned right in the introduction, ALWAYS REMEMBER that the people and principles behind Facebook are essentially the same as Meta. 

Don’t let them get away with the disassociation via rebranding. Meta has already started going down the “humanizing corporate” route by tweeting cringy puns.

fb google revenue streams donut chart 2020

Facebook is a company that is primarily dependant on ad revenue. About 98% of their revenue is from ads. With the world more aware of privacy issues and companies like Apple providing tools to opt-out of tracking, Facebook’s business model is in jeopardy.

Transition Of Business Model?

With the Metaverse, Facebook might potentially transition from an ad-based company into a services-based company by providing hardware and software to participate in the Metaverse.

If they want to provide access to the Metaverse for “free”, they might double down on the ad-based business model. There will be even more data points to capture via the Metaverse. This is dangerous if Meta has major control over the Metaverse. Once they have control over both the software and hardware, you won’t be able to control how they track you unless you don’t participate in their Metaverse.

It’s quite funny that they rebranded to Meta as what Facebook has been doing is to collect our metadata and sell ad services based on that. It would be funnier if Facebook isn’t a threat to the social fabric of our society.

I Do Not Trust Facebook And Meta

If it is still not obvious, I do not trust Facebook and Meta. If participating in the metaverse is going to be the norm in the future, I do not wish to have Meta be at the helm and have majority control over the Metaverse. There are multiple times the number of data points that can be collected within and outside the Metaverse so we have to be extra careful.

  • Video footage of your surroundings
  • Facial emotions analysis
  • Eye-tracking for ads

Mark Zuckerberg’s early motto for Facebook was “Company Over Country”. Facebook has proven many times over the years that it cannot be trusted to put society over profits when they want to move fast and break things.

Targeting Teens And Kids

Source: YouTube

Facebook wanted to develop an Instagram for kids but they paused development due to massive pushback. They are still looking to build a social platform for kids. In their internal documents, it showed that Instagram had caused teen girls to feel worse about their bodies and resulting in increased rates of anxiety and depression. They obviously knew how bad the platform is for kids and teens but still wanted to go for it. This has been compared to tobacco companies knowing that the earlier one is exposed to the product, the easier it is to get them addicted to becoming a lifetime user.

Another document leaked that they will be targeting children at low as 6 years old. In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg said he wanted to fight against COPPA, the law that requires strict privacy measures for children below 13, at some point as it prevented children to be on the social network.

In the live stream where he announced Meta, he said that parental controls will be available in their Metaverse. Doesn’t this show that targeting kids is part of Meta’s plans?

Shadow Profiles

Even if you do not have a Facebook account, they can still collect data on you via your friends that are using Facebook. Most websites nowadays also have Facebook Pixel installed in their backend and these can track data about you via cookies, even if you do not have a Facebook account. This has allowed them to even serve targeted ads to individuals that are non-facebook users. Over time, multiple data points are collected and can create a unique profile on their system. The day you create a Facebook account, all these data points that can be collected previously will be linked to your real-life profile.

Tracking Off-Facebook Activity

If you have Facebook on your phone, they can track your actions over the internet and apps. These apps and websites place a small piece of software provided by Facebook that allows Facebook to keep track of your actions. An example would be if you visit cryptocurrency sites, Facebook will make use of this information and let cryptocurrency advertisers target you.

Another level up would be that they will profile you based on the pages you visit to predict your preferences or psychological biases. For example, if you visit Feng Shui pages, they will profile you as a superstitious person that does not believe in science, scams or pages that spread misinformation can target you as you are more prone to believe whatever is placed in front of you without rational critical thinking.

Misinformation

Facebook has come under criticism for allowing objectionable content like conspiracy theories and fake news. The manipulation of human behaviour by controlling what you see on your feed is part of the core business of Facebook. Researchers studying misinformation on the Facebook platform got their personal accounts removed.

It has faced accusations that they played a part in the detrimental effects on society due to the misformation that they allowed to propagate on the platform.

Something more local would be the infamous TOC that publishes sensationalized news that recently alleged that the Police is bullying an old lady without fact-checking. When you have such a big following, especially by anti-establishment folks, it can be very dangerous.

 Source: r/HermanCainAward

Click on the first image and press “next” to navigate the gallery.

If you look at the r/HermanCainAward, you can see that most of the misinformation is posted on the Facebook platform. The subreddit is dedicated to the documenting of the anti-vaxx, anti-mask and “Covid is a Hoax” community from posting memes and denouncing vaccines/masks/covid and towards the end, their closed ones announcing their departure due to Covid, asking for money via Gofundme to fund their hospital bills and funeral and of course, thoughts and prayers.

Sensationalized News Prey On Emotions

Misinformation and sensationalized news tend to attract clicks and engagement and this helps Facebook make money as these publishers make use of the platform to push their ads that target the individuals that are attracted to sensational news. These individuals usually are more prone to manipulation due to the lack of critical thinking. With digital avatars in the Metaverse, AI-controlled avatars (a.k.a bots) cannot be differentiated from real people and they can be used to nudge people to influence their behaviours.

What Can We Do About Meta?

Letting one company, especially a company like Facebook / Meta, gain a monopoly in such technological advancement is never good for society. If the base of the Metaverse is built on open-source code, more players can enter the industry and also allow for audits to see if there is any nefarious code.

If you are like me and don’t want Meta to be in control, here are some of the things we can do.

As Users – Stop Using Facebook / Meta Products

Users are the most important metric. Without users, their Metaverse will be worthless and won’t be able to attract businesses to either place ads or host their business pages with them. A lot of Facebook and Instagram are now filled with businesses and individuals trying to sell you things. There is not much you can get out of being on Facebook or Instagram as individuals except being there to be sold something.

As a business, stop advertising on platforms under Meta. In 2020, 1,000 businesses boycotted facebook by pausing their ads for a month but it barely affected their revenue. However, with Apple’s new app tracking transparency policy, Facebook and other social platforms lost about US$10 billion of ad revenue.

Not Specific To The Metaverse

Businesses should not be overreliant on Facebook. Work on your website and not just have a business page on Facebook. They have already controlled the visibility of your page by only pushing out updates to your audience if you pay to boost your post. You should diversify how your business can be reached and not only bank on Facebook just because it is free. If one day something happens to your business page, all the audience you have built up over the years are gone. You need to start building up your customer base off Facebook. You don’t have to delete your Facebook page as a business but start thinking about diversifying the channels that your customers can reach you at.

Specific To The Metaverse

As much as possible, don’t interact with Meta’s Metaverse. Don’t purchase and/or play their games even if it is free. If your company ask for comments regarding using Meta’s Metaverse for business meetings, let them know what you think and what alternatives are there.

As A Government – Strong And Agile Government Regulations

We need to be on top of what Meta and other potential players are trying to do with the Metaverse. Strong regulations need to be there protect society. We cannot be overly reactionary and wait for these social platforms to be entrenched in our lives and cause problems before laws are passed. By that time, it can be too late when the damage is already done. When I saw that there are anti-vaxx communities in Singapore, I was really disappointed.

As An Investor – Responsible Investing

I personally will not invest in Meta as their business model is unethical. Investing in a company means that you are providing capital for a company to fund its operations. I know that if successful, Meta’s Metaverse will be a gold mine but I cannot in good faith actively invest in such a company. It might not be avoidable if we invest in a wide market index ETF but at least we are not directly investing.

Disclaimer: The above references an opinion and is not intended to be investment advice.

As An Employee – There Are Other Tech Companies You Can Work At

At this point in time, Meta has not yet dominated the development of the Metaverse. If you really want to be part of the development of the Metaverse, look for other companies. You don’t have to work for Meta. Even if Meta is the kindest company in the world, we should not let one corporation dominate any industry, especially something as important as the Metaverse. Companies like Roblox and Nvidia are also possible frontiers in the Metaverse.

TL, DR

Facebook is rebranding to Meta, shifting its focus from “Facebook first” to “Metaverse first”. They have seen the potential of being a first mover in the space. Meta now have a chance to gain market share and shut out potential competitors. I do not trust Facebook and Meta to be the ones to write the rules and build the infrastructure to bring the Metaverse into reality. As a society, it is never good for a company to achieve a monopoly over such an important technology, especially a company like Facebook and Meta.

Banner image by Almudena6cv

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