Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of The Metaverse, could provide a foresight of where things are heading on the internet’s current path. The idea of “the metaverse” is not something that frightens me in itself. Rather, I think we should be acutely wary of the companies that design it. The addictive quality of social platforms, coupled with the privacy-intrusive ways major technology companies extract user data, should be a major concern for everyone.
First of all, Facebook is known to be a company that prioritizes profits over the safety of its users, with little concern for the impact on society. The business model of companies such as Facebook and Google are primarily focused on user data. As the popular saying goes, their services are offered for free, because “we are the products”. Harvard professor and author Shoshana Zuboff invented the concept of “surveillance capitalism” to describe what they do.
Not only does data equal power in the digital age, but data is value. The more data Facebook can collect about us, the better for them. Every business move they make should be viewed in that light. Without our knowing, Facebook monitors our behavior on their platform, extracts information from it, and sells the information to third parties for marketing purposes. With more and more intrusive measures, they are able to predict and manipulate what we do, say, or think about.
As Kevin Dwyer and Kev Silk puts in a Medium article on Ankr’s blog:
“The data points for everything you’ve ever searched, read, watched, posted, liked, clicked on, opted into, interacted with, purchased, or even thought about have been scooped up into a massive digital dragnet and sold to the highest bidder.”
In Facebook’s upcoming metaverse, we are left even more blind to what is really going on behind the curtains, while we are indulged in Facebook’s data-collecting spiderweb. Coupled with the addictive quality of Facebook, who knows if we will come to rely on the “the metaverse” for our social and professional communities to such an extent that abandoning it is next to impossible. Perhaps even harder than it is to quit social media today. Should we allow a tech giant like Facebook to infiltrate our lives with “the metaverse”, while we are essentially reduced to legless avatars in an ongoing video game?
The major issue with the underlying structure of the internet today is its centralized nature. Gargantuan internet companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have too much power. Many of these companies profit greatly from taking ownership of user data, which rightfully should belong to the users. Their influence in the digital space can among other things stifle innovation and hinder the free flow of information, as they effectively serve as gate-keepers to what and which content people see on a daily basis.
The centralized structure of the internet cannot be changed. Both on an individual and a societal level, we are highly dependent on the digital services provided by a few companies. The only plausible way to escape the grips of Big Tech would be to design an alternative, open-sourced, decentralized internet that anyone can equally participate in and benefit from, developers and users alike. Efforts to create such a space have collectively been referred to as “Web 3.0”.
“Web 3.0” is a popular, but abstract and all-encompassing buzzword. The concept refers to a new internet based on blockchain technology, AI, and the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and also encompasses virtual reality, the metaverse, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), and decentralized finance (Defi). In a recently published academic paper, Liu et al. (2021) provides the first academic definition of Web 3.0:
“(..) an era of computing where the critical computing of applications is verifiable.”
Usually, Web 3.0 is – like Bitcoin – associated with “decentralization”. However, the authors recognize that some degree of centralized control is inevitably in Web 3.0, namely to compensate for functionality that is difficult or infeasible to execute via on-chain smart contracts.
Instead, the authors of the paper point to “verifiability” as Web 3.0’s key defining trait. All transactions with bitcoin are tamperproof, time-stamped, publicly recorded on the blockchain, and therefore verifiable by anyone. In a similar manner, stakeholders are able to prove whether the execution of a Web 3.0 application (a DApp) complies with or violates the pre-agreed contractual terms between users and the application.
Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum and creator of Polkadot, described his vision for Web 3.0 in a blog post from 2018:
“With technologies for message passing and data publication, we hoped to construct a peer-to-peer web that lets you do everything you can now, except there would no servers and no authorities to manage the flow of information.”
That is, in essence, what the concept of Web 3.0 was born to achieve. However, although innovation in the crypto space has been booming over the last months and years, the emergence of a new blockchain-based Web 3.0 is possibly decades away. It will be interesting to follow the development.
 See Shoshana Zuboff (2019), The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.
 Kevin Dwyer & Kev Silk (2021), The Theory of Web 3.0 -> https://medium.com/ankr-network/the-theory-of-web-3-0-c5b27a06002b (04-12-2021).
 Liu et. al (2021), Make Web 3.0 Connected A Perspective from Interoperability and Programmability across Blockchains
 Ibid. pg. 3.
 Ibid. pg. 2.
Gavin Wood (2018), Why We Need Web 3.0 -> https://gavofyork.medium.com/why-we-need-web-3-0-5da4f2bf95ab (04-12-2021).