Wellbeing in the Workplace: What is it and How Can it Be Achieved?

Ethical Considerations For Data in the Metaverse

Implications for Society

From time to time I post a guest blog when it contains important information. Today's blog is by Charlie Fletcher. You can contact her at: [email protected].

Chances are, you’d never even heard of the Metaverse this time last year, let alone given much consideration to the role it may play in the future of your business. Now, though, it’s a word that seems to be on everyone’s lips. The buzz is growing, as evidenced by Facebook’s recent rechristening as Meta.

Ostensibly, the Metaverse sets transform the way we communicate, socialize, learn, work, and do business much in the same way that Web 2.0 has, only on a much, much larger scale. Indeed, proponents argue the global marketplace will likely migrate to the Metaverse very soon, meaning that stragglers hesitate at their peril.

Nevertheless, there are important, and in many ways, unprecedented, ethical considerations that must be addressed before responsible business owners take the leap into the virtual world. Given the very real and highly significant risks to data privacy and personal security alike, the question emerges whether it is ethical for businesses to participate in the Metaverse at all.

Biometric Data Collection and Security

The distinguishing characteristic of the Metaverse is its immersive nature. The Metaverse is, in essence, a three-dimensional virtual world that is constructed through the use of augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies.

And, when it comes to data collection and security, therein lies the rub. For example, VR glasses have already proven highly susceptible to data breaches There is significant concern that sensitive biometric data may be collected through unethical means or for nefarious purposes. These data points may be used, for instance, to access users’ personal health information.

Security breaches, similarly, may leave the users’ most important personal data and accounts vulnerable. Biometric data, such as fingerprint and iris scans, have generally been considered to provide the highest levels of security, but through the use of AR/VR in the Metaverse, hackers will have more opportunities than ever before to access these unique identifiers.

For businesses, the implications of the potential theft of biometric data are profound. For example, if your employees work in the Metaverse rather than the physical office, then the risk of the compromise of biometric data also inevitably poses a threat to the security of your company's internal data as well.

A hacker who acquires access to an employee’s biometric data, for example, may well be able to also retrieve any company data that any employee has access to in the Metaverse, including human resources (HR) files or your business’s financial data.

Identity Theft & Avatar Deep Fakes

Every person who participates in the Metaverse is required to create an avatar that will serve as their digital “self” in this virtual world. Presumably, the avatar is highly secure, able to be accessed and controlled only by the “owner” it was created to represent.

The uniqueness and security of a Metaverse avatar will predict a user’s ability to shop, work, or even receive medical care. However, emerging technologies, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, have already illustrated the immense risk of identity theft in the Metaverse, particularly through the creation of so-called “deep fakes.”

In Web 2.0, fraudulent videos of private citizens and celebrities alike featuring AI-based deep fakes have duped even the most tech-savvy users. These fraudulent simulations of real people are practically indistinguishable from real individuals, meaning that deep fakes threaten to take the practice of identity theft to a new and terrifying level.

Without clear, consistent, rigorous guidelines and governance concerning the ethical use of AI and similar technologies, there is serious concern that deep fakes in the Metaverse will have tremendous power to ruin an individual’s reputation, finances, and personal and professional life.


Social Hacking Concerns

Unfortunately, hackers and other bad actors don’t have to be as technologically savvy as the biometrics thieves or the deep fakers. All too often, it’s not the sophisticated cybercriminal, but the cunning con artist that you should fear most. Social engineering hacks are just as much of a threat in the Metaverse as they are in the physical world, if not more so.

This may leave your employees, partners, and customers vulnerable to phishing and other scams. Without a physical office space or storefront, customers may think they’re conducting business with you in the Metaverse when, in actuality, they’re disclosing their personal and financial information to scammers posing as your company or its representatives.

Business Data Considerations

For all of its promise, the Metaverse may well pose a significant threat to your employees, your customers, and your business data in general. In light of this, ethical business practice in the Metaverse requires business owners and leadership to exercise extreme care when deciding the when’s and how’s of participation. 

For example, using a program increment (PI) approach when planning your company’s entry into the Metaverse can better help protect your company and your people. The PI model takes a strategic, deliberative, and comprehensive approach to project implementation. Concerning planning your company’s participation in the Metaverse, the PI strategy must prioritize ethical practices, particularly the collection, use, and securing of company, staff, partner, and customer data.

The Takeaway

The Metaverse may be the future of your business and all businesses in general, but that does not mean that your company’s participation is inevitable. Before entering the Metaverse, it’s incumbent on business owners and decision-makers to establish rigorous ethical standards, particularly concerning how data is collected, used, and protected.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on July 7, 2022. You can sign up for Steve’s newsletter and learn more about his activities on his website  (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/) and by following him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.