On October 11, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, unveiled its latest virtual reality (VR) headset at the Meta Connect 2022 event. The company added new features to improve digital avatars, raising privacy concerns about data collection. The Quest Pro is Meta’s latest piece of VR technology, as the company continues its push into the Metaverse. It has five cameras inside the headset that watch and track a person’s facial expressions and eye movements. It also has five external cameras, which will be used in the future to track other bodily movements to simulate real-world motions. These Quest Pro upgrades are intended to improve the quality of digital avatars in the metaverse. They will accurately and uniquely reflect a user’s emotions and expressions in real time, according to Meta.
This follows a significant internet backlash (and memes) from a photo of Mark Zuckerberg’s less-than-realistic metaverse avatar that he posted over the summer. Identity in the Metaverse is a prominent topic of discussion in the space as designers and developers strive to create realistic digital experiences. Despite the new headset’s default off-setting for facial tracking, industry experts believe it won’t last long. Facebook has long struggled with privacy ethics in its use and collection of biometric data. Even though these companies claim they do not sell this personal information, numerous reports have surfaced claiming otherwise.
Following government investigations, class action lawsuits, and regulatory concerns, Facebook announced in November that it would delete data extraction from facial recognition of over 1 billion people. In April, whistleblower Frances Haugen expressed concerns about how Meta will handle privacy and sensitive data in the Metaverse in an interview. Without increased transparency and accountability, it will “repeat all of the harms you currently see on Facebook,” according to Haugen. She went on to say that there will always be a conflict between what these companies present to the public and what they will do to make money: “At the end of the day, their business model revolves around monetizing your data.”
Users on Twitter have had mixed reactions to the VR set, with some scoffing at the price but praising the technology, while others are concerned about their privacy. One user described VR gaming as an “amazing” experience, but he wants his privacy to be protected: It’s incredible to play Java Minecraft in VR. Doc, I disagree with you on this one. The bigger issue is who controls the Metaverse; once eye tracking becomes commonplace, we don’t want Meta without at least guaranteed privacy restrictions. Although decentralized technologies such as nonfungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain, and cryptocurrencies are becoming a mainstay of metaverse development, this may not be enough when big tech is involved.
When large tech companies like Meta dive headfirst into the Metaverse, centralization begins to creep back in. According to Vitalik Buterin, Facebook’s metaverse will “misfire” because it is too early to know what people want. Nonetheless, Meta keeps moving forward. Aside from the announcement of Quest Pro, it also announced a collaboration with Microsoft to bring Office 365 products to digital reality.