The Interview: Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is warning that the virtual reality world at the center of the social media giant’s growth strategy will be addictive and loot people’s personal information, giving the company another monopoly online.

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BRUSSELS – Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned Tuesday that the “Metaverse”, the virtual reality world at the heart of the social media giant’s growth strategy, would be addictive and rob people of more personal information while giving the embroiled company another monopoly. Online.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Haugen said that his former employer recently rushed to trumpet the Metaverse after revealing the deep problems it was facing at the company, in revelations that have left the world unscathed. Has activated legislative and regulatory efforts throughout. To crack down on Big Tech.

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Meta, the new name for Facebook’s parent company, denied that it was trying to distract from those troubles by pushing the Metaverse. “This is not true. We have been working on this internally for a long time,” the company said in a statement.

It stressed that it is working responsibly to build the metaverse – essentially a series of interconnected virtual communities that will merge online life with real life. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that users will, for example, be able to attend virtual concerts or fences with holograms of Olympic athletes in the Metaverse — and he focused the entire company on building it, including renaming the business Meta. also includes.

Launching that new brand has, in fact, caught the company’s attention, it said in a statement, adding that it would have delayed the launch or canceled it altogether if it didn’t want an investigation.

But the new focus on the metaverse creates a whole new set of dangers, Haugen said. In “Snow Crash,” the 1992 sci-fi novel that coined the phrase, “it was something people used to numb when their life was terrible,” she said.

“Beyond the fact that these immersive environments are extremely addictive and that they encourage people to unplug from the reality we actually live in,” she said, “I’m also concerned about that – for the metaverse of us. Will need to put many, many more sensors in our homes and our workplaces,” forcing users to sacrifice much of their data and their privacy.

In a presentation last month, Zuckerberg explained how the metaverse would allow for mixed-reality business meetings where some participants are physically present while others beam as avatars. The company has launched virtual meeting software called Horizon Workroom for use with its virtual reality headsets, so co-workers can better communicate, brainstorm, and socialize virtually, rather than (hopefully) looking at each other on a Zoom call grid. can.

But Haugen said that employees at companies that use the metaverse will have no choice but to participate in the system or quit their jobs.

“If your employer decides they are now a metaverse company, you will need to give that company more personal data that demonstrates it lies whenever it is in its best interest.”

And he cautioned the public not to expect more transparency.

“They have demonstrated with respect to Facebook that they can hide behind a wall. They keep making coercive mistakes, they keep doing things that prioritize their profit over our safety,” she said.

Haugen has said that Facebook’s systems fuel online hate and extremism, fail to protect young people from harmful content, and that the company lacks any incentive to fix the problems, leading to internal crises at the company. Which provides 3 free services. Arab people.

To support his allegations, he has made several disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission that were also provided to Congress in amended form by his legal team. Revised versions obtained by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations including the .

In Tuesday’s interview, she expressed surprise that the company would focus on a new area, while it is under so much intense criticism about the areas it already operates in.

“They’re going to hire 10,000 engineers to work on video games when they haven’t really got security on their core product,” Haugen said.

For that, she personally blamed Zuckerberg, saying that he has displayed a pattern of prioritizing growth to ensure that Facebook is good for users.

“I think it’s a failure of leadership,” she said. “Unless he wants to prioritize platform security, he should step aside and let someone else focus on that.”

The company denied that it was making profits on the security. “Yes, we are a business and we make a profit, but the idea that we do so at the cost of people’s safety or well-being is misunderstood as to where our own business interests lie,” it added. planning to spend. $5 billion in 2021 on safety and security and employs more than 40,000 people working to keep users safe.

Zuckerberg had previously dismissed Haugen’s claims as a “coordinated effort” to paint a false picture of the company.

But officials in Washington and European capitals are taking his claims seriously. EU lawmakers questioned him intensively on Monday, before applauding him at the end of the 2 1/2-hour hearing.

The European Union is drafting new digital rules for the 27-nation bloc that call for reining in big “digital gatekeepers” by requiring them to be more transparent about the algorithms that determine whether people What you see on your feed and make them more accountable for the content. Forum.

Facebook has said it largely supports the regulations, with legislative efforts in the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as new US regulations that could reduce advertising revenue, but Meta’s share price has so far taken the recent storm. is facing.

Haugen has stopped in London and Berlin to talk to officials and lawmakers and has spoken at a technical conference in Lisbon. She will also address French parliamentarians in Paris on Wednesday.

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Chan reported from London.

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