Imagine the Web pointed cameras back at you. That’s what the metaverse will be like
Fans or skeptics, people considering the metaverse seem to be realizing for the first time that some of their biometric identifiers will be needed for participation.
News and analysis of metaverse business models lately point out what should have been obvious a decade ago when investments into to the new mirror world picked up speed. It will always be a buzzkill to have to type a logon and password before or after slipping on a headset. Like having to ride a horse to get the keys for a car.
Every (legless) step of the way to life in the metaverse is going to require the recording of one biometric identifier or another. Logging on, buying and selling anything, dating, attending business meetings – if passwords are not being typed, biometrics will fill the void.
It is true that there might be trusted entities that vouch for one’s identity.
Maybe people in the metaverse will have digitally represented payment and ID cards, for instance. Or Apple will transplant its model for alleviating its customers of their need to use most passwords.
But in every case, anyone hoping to have a full life while wearing opaque goggles while sitting in a coffee shop, will have to surrender their voice, face, iris and/or fingerprint to someone else. And there is no reason to stop there. Heartbeats, breath, ear canal structure, anything biometric can and someday will be ID currency.
It is fascinating to see venerable tech culture and business magazine Wired write with a note of alarm about how Facebook’s father organization Meta Platforms plans to put five cameras in a future headset.
Those sensors will not be looking outward, warning wearers that they have wondered onto a real freeway. They will be watching eyes and expressions to transfer that data to an avatar.
Holding that information milliseconds to make avatars more interesting is long enough to analyze, make predictions, sell and, of course, steal.
What is fascinating about Wired’s big take here is that it is the only magazine in the world purpose built at the inception of the internet age. No one has been fawning over/warning about cyberspace as long as its editors have (and in more insufferable fonts and colors).
Now there are misgivings.
Wired’s not alone. Time, one of the United States’ oldest surviving news and culture publication, reports qualms, too.
And The Information, launched in 2013 to dig out deep tech industry stories, this month published a piece noting that Apple is expected to launch its line of virtual reality headsets and content next year with iris scanners for ID verification.
Other than selling headsets, this is not new ground for Apple. Recent iPhones scan either fingerprints or faces and compare the data to biometrics that users store beforehand. To Apple’s credit, the initial scans are stored on the devices and not on the cloud, a common practice that can introduce significant drawbacks in terms of personal privacy. And, in theory, it means Apple cannot make money by selling identifiers.
Trade publication Pymnts rounds out the recent coverage, noting that retail investment management firm Charles Schwab instructs customers calling in to repeat a sentence.
At the time of writing the article, the publication reported, the verbal passcode was “At Schwab, your voice is your password.” Extra points for turning voice biometric security into marketing. No points for predicting that Schwab will be allowing its customers to order trades at a company metaverse office with little more than a cough.
It is good that that the community is looking at a metaverse future more soberly than people did during the early woolly days of the internet. But more questions need asking.
If a company like Apple can permanently (more or less) verify someone once they enter the metaverse, making repeated verifications by others less likely, who prevents biometric identifiers from being harvested when a person walks (assuming) into a corporate metaverse area? Even if anonymized, facial identifiers and displayed emotions are going to be a hard sell for some.
There are plenty of entrepreneurs and academics who say notions of privacy are naïve and antiquated. If so, does entrance to the metaverse, even today, amount to giving up common concepts about privacy?
For-profit technology companies are not invested in anything but producing more profit for shareholders. Practices today bend to pressures tomorrow.
Wired noted that almost exactly a year ago, Facebook said it was erasing the face biometrics that it had collected from its 1 billion subscribers. Now, Meta says its Quest Pro headset will have those cameras. Biometrics-derived money is too tempting to pass up.
Apple | biometrics | data privacy | identity verification | Meta | metaverse | secure transactions