As of October 28th, 2021, Meta is the official parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp. Mark Zuckerberg remains the CEO of Meta, despite being at the forefront of many privacy related scandals. He also introduced a new concept of a “metaverse,” based on the dystopian novel Snow Crash in which people escape a failing society by finding solace in a virtual world. But what is the metaverse, anyway? And what will this mean for the already digitally immersed lives of generation Z? Read on for more.
Zuckerberg claims that the rebranding of his parent company will increase confidence among users that their data from social media apps won’t be shared with his new Internet of Things (IoT) devices, like the Quest VR headset. “People had concerns that ‘If I sign into Instagram with this or if I sign into WhatsApp with it, does that mean that my data is somehow gonna get shared over here in a way that I didn’t want?’,” says Zuckerberg. But is this move going to protect users’ data, or desensitize them from sharing data between their profiles under the Meta umbrella?
In August of 2020, Zuckerberg’s company mandated that new users of the Oculus Quest VR headset log into their Facebook account in order to use the device in order to “unlock social features,” though consumers who had an Oculus account beforehand can avoid logging into their Facebook account on devices until 2023. This brings up ethical and legal concerns of such significance that the company had to pause headset sales in Germany because “the obligation to create a Facebook account [to access an Oculus headset] is legally extremely questionable.”
Before this rebranding, it was already unclear how Zuckerberg’s company uses our data. Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting and strategic communication firm behind Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, to access personal identifiable information of “up to 87 million users” through a number of factors including “inadequate safeguards against companies engaging in data harvesting, little to no oversight of developers by Facebook, developer abuse of the Facebook API, and users agreeing to overly broad terms and conditions.”
Cambridge Analytica developed and launched a personality quiz app called thisisyourdigitiallife, which collected data that could be used to develop a “psychographic” profile of users. One use for this kind of information could be to target users who are more likely to be susceptible to fake news. One study found that misinformation on Facebook received 6 times more clicks than factual information. Users should be wary of how this company will manipulate our data, especially as Meta releases more IoT devices and produces more ways of gathering and manipulating our data.
We don’t need to expose our data to Zuckerberg in order to enjoy the benefits of the metaverse. In fact, the metaverse is already here. The metaverse can be described as “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” But we already live in a world with digital fashion, Memojis, and cryptocurrency. We can all think of ways that the internet and the “real” world have blended together. Zuckerberg wants in on the metaverse, but he is not the creator of it.
What does this mean for how Gen Z will interact with their data in the future? Generation Z is less concerned with online privacy than previous generations and is the most comfortable putting devices in their homes that can listen to their conversation, when compared to other generations. All generations, including Generation Z, are comfortable giving up privacy if they believe it will bring them security or convenience. Zuckerberg’s recent rebranding doesn’t do anything to prove that his company will be responsible with our data. All generations, especially Generation Z, should be taking steps to learn about cybersecurity and privacy in order to protect their information.
Bianca Gonzalez is a queer, disabled, Latina B2B writer and social change advocate. She became a brain cancer survivor at the age of 20. Find her on Twitter at @ourstellarwords, Instagram at ourstellarwords, and on her website, b2binclusive.com.