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Metaverse January 19, 2023

People Who Struggle With Identity Find the Metaverse a Safer Place to Be Themselves

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People Who Struggle With Identity Find the Metaverse a Safer Place to Be Themselves
The next arena for identity politics?

A growing number of people are putting virtual reality (VR) headsets in the metaverse to talk through deep pain in their lives.

A recent Ipsos study on the opinion the “metaverse is for people like me” shows what they called a worrisome trend. The study says people who struggle with identity in real world find the metaverse a safer place to be themselves.

“This is one of the more interesting and potentially troubling findings in the survey,” said Ipsos.

Consisting of innovative technology, social media, online communities, NFTs, blockchain technology and Web3 integrations, the metaverse seems to be gaining more popularity within the cyber community.

Apart from leisure and entertainment, gaming, travel and tourism – there is now a growing community that finds solace in the metaverse.

Also read: Nick Cave Is Very Upset with ChatGPT Song

Of late, people have shifted to virtual worlds to find solace for their grief or to discuss supposedly “taboo” subjects. Traditional online communities that used to rely on chatrooms and texts are slowly being replaced by metaverse communities that are taking advantage of the developments in virtual reality.

Death Q&A community

A weekly hour-long session built around grappling with mortality, Death Q&A is a virtual community where attendees often open up about experiences and feelings they’ve shared with no one else. According to Hana Kiros, the metaverse has proven to be instrumental in connecting people despite their differences, whilst creating a safe space for one to be vulnerable. Kiros had the opportunity to interview a recently widowed Claire Matte, who ended up using VR as her go to grief counselling community soon after her husband passed on.

According to Kiros, Death Q&A is a virtual destination where conversations can veer off from the abstract to the incredibly intimate, built around grappling with mortality, where attendees often open up about experiences and feelings they have shared with no one else.

Despite the misconception they are just for gaming, more people like Claire Matte are joining virtual communities to talk about their grief and complex social issues that usually create tension in face to face experiences.

“These relationships that we make in VR can become very intimate and deep and vulnerable,” says Tom Nickel, a 73-year-old former hospice volunteer who runs the virtual meetups with co-host Ryan Astheimer.

Comfortable with strangers

Soon after she learned how soon her husband would die of cancer, Matte attended her first Death Q&A.

“Those people, I could tell how long he had left,” she said. After sharing her story, another attendee described how they had grieved and recovered from losing their spouse.

Kiros says this is one of the most striking things about Death Q&A – sharing and inspiring the next person with an experience similar to them, who actually understand what they are going through.

A shoulder to lean on in the metaverse

“I knew by the end of it I was going to attend these meetups every Tuesday at one o’clock Eastern,” said Matte who shares the same sentiments with many others who are finding a shoulder to lean on in the metaverse.

Matte also met 38-year-old Kenyan, Paul Waiyaki at Death Q&A. She now calls him one of her closest friends.

Waiyaki says he did not allow himself to process the death of his sister due to societal norms, until he did through VR.

“Men in my society can’t be seen breaking down,” he explains.

“At Death Q&A, I was able to put the baggage down. I was able to mourn and cry the tears I hadn’t cried before. It hurt to, but I could feel a wound heal as I did.”

According to The Pew Research Center 54% of tech experts say that by 2040 the metaverse will be a fully-immersive platform, expected to be used by more than 500 million users daily.

Combining the power of AR, VR and haptics the metaverse could prove to be an environment worth spending time for various reasons and anonymously.

“Bright cartoon-like avatars represent the dozen or so people who attend each meetup, freed by VR’s combination of anonymity and togetherness to engage strangers with an earnestness we typically reserve for rare moments, if we reveal it at all,” wrote Kiros.

Feeling of true presence

But Death Q&A has managed to provide the much needed relief. Death Q&A and another similar session – Saying Goodbye, focused on loss and make up 40 or so live events offered by EvolVR, a virtual spiritual community that was founded by Tom Nickel’s son Jeremy in 2017.

Nickel was looking for ways to minister, untethered to the conventions of mainstream religion, when he first tried on a VR headset in 2015.

He left the physical pulpit to host live group meditations in VR before Covid 19 started, creating more scope for virtual counseling sessions.

That feeling of true presence, as if avatars were really sharing a room together, convinced him that a spiritual community could form among people wearing headsets.

“The lightbulb went off in my head—people feel like they’re really together in VR,” Jeremy says.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

Business

Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech

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Quest 3 Headset Will Have Better Mixed Reality Tech, says Zuckerberg
Artist's rendering.

Meta, keen to be a Metaverse giant, plans to launch virtual reality headset Quest 3 later this year, with better mixed reality technology, said CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Meta confirmed that the release should be called Meta Quest 3. It’s expected to cost between US$300 and US$500, which is about a third of the Quest Pro (the Quest Pro is currently priced at $1,499.99).

Also read: Meta Employees Undermine Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Strategy

The new headset will provide support for Meta Reality, which is technology that enables virtual reality headsets to also be used for augmented reality. This technology allows devices to create mixed reality experiences.

Meta Reality in Next-Gen Consumer Headset

The mixed reality ecosystem is relatively new, but Zuckerberg thinks it’s going to grow a lot in the next few years.

“Later this year, we’re going to launch our next generation consumer headset, which will feature Meta Reality as well, and I expect that this is going to establish this technology as the baseline for all headsets going forward, and eventually of course for AR glasses as well,” said Zuckerberg.

Beyond MR, the broader VR ecosystem continues growing. There are now over 200 apps on Meta’s VR devices that have made more than $1 million in revenue, Zuckerberg said.

How Meta Reality will look in more affordable headsets is yet to be clear.

Meta’s Reported Win over FTC will be Crucial

Meta has reportedly won court approval earlier this week to acquire VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, which will be a huge boost for Zuckerberg’s ambitious metaverse project.

Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”

Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

“There is a lot of work there that we haven’t actually shipped the product yet. VR, which is starting to ramp, right, Quest 2, I think, did quite well. We have multiple product lines there with the Quest Pro,” said Zuckerberg about Quest 3.

When Meta shipped Quest Pro at the end of last year, it was something their CEO was “really proud of” and believed it was the first mainstream mixed reality device to set the standard for the industry with Meta Reality.

“As always, the reason why we’re focused on building these platforms is to deliver better social experiences than what’s possible today on phones,” said Zuckerberg.

The possible benefit could be expected in Quest 3 through the acquisition of Within.

 

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Metaverse

Interpol Wants to Police Metaverse Crime. But That May Not Be Easy

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Interpol Wants to Police Metaverse Crime. But That May Not Be Easy

The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, is looking at ways to police crime in the metaverse, according to secretary general Jurgen Stock. However, the agency may find that to be hard in the absence of a universally agreed definition of the “metaverse,” let alone of metaverse crime.

Stock said, “criminals are sophisticated and professional in very quickly adapting to any new technological tool that is available to commit crime. We need to sufficiently respond to that. Sometimes lawmakers, police, and our societies are running a little bit behind.”

“We have seen if we are doing it too late, it already impacts trust in the tools we are using, and therefore the metaverse. In similar platforms that already exist, criminals are using it,” he added, according to the BBC.

Defining the metaverse

The metaverse may be thought of as the idea of a post-physical world in which life is lived virtually on the Internet: “a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space” where humans experience life in ways they could not in the real world.

Also read: Is the World Ready for Music Concerts in the Metaverse?

American author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. He referred to the metaverse as an all-encompassing digital world that exists parallel to the real world.

However, the word gained significance when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of the social media company to “Meta” in 2021, a rebrand that focused on building the metaverse.

While at this point users are already utilizing a range of hardware such as headsets to gain access to the immersive experiences of the metaverse, there’s still no universally agreed definition of the metaverse. Much less of metaverse crime.

What does metaverse crime look like for Interpol?

The building blocks of the new form of communication are still being laid down. Anyone can build their own metaverse and define how that specific digital world works. Interpol has now built its own virtual reality (VR) space in order to catch up with criminals operating in the metaverse.

The VR unit is aimed at helping its officers with training for virtual interactions. Announcing the launch of the virtual reality metaverse last October, Interpol said:

“As the number of metaverse users grows and the technology further develops, the list of possible crimes will only expand to potentially include crimes against children, data theft, money laundering, financial fraud, counterfeiting, ransomware, phishing, and sexual assault and harassment.”

Interpol is still having a hard time defining metaverse crime. Madan Oberoi, the executive director of technology and innovation at Interpol, admitted to the BBC that “there are crimes where I don’t know whether it can still be called a crime or not.”

“For example, there have been reported cases of sexual harassment,” he said. “If you look at the definitions of these crimes in physical space, and you try to apply it in the metaverse, there is a difficulty.”

“We don’t know whether we can call them a crime or not, but those threats are definitely there, so those issues are yet to be resolved,” he added.

Oberoi said law enforcement needed to “know about the metaverse” in order to “help people who have been hurt in the metaverse.” It is one of Interpol’s objectives, he explained, “to make sure law enforcement personnel start using the metaverse and they become aware.”

Uphill task

Alex Kim, chief monetization officer at XR platform Sensorium Galaxy, said while discussions around metaverse regulation may help create “safe digital environments” for users, there is still need to strike a balance in implementation.

“The metaverse is being envisioned as a decentralized platform over which no central authority has control over,” Kim told MetaNews.

“This begs the question of who exactly should be tasked with monitoring the metaverse and what powers can this entity potentially have, and over what and whom.” Continuing, Kim added:

“It’s clear that policing the metaverse won’t be as straightforward as some might be hoping, but it’s very positive that the conversation surrounding the topic is moving forward, especially given the rapid pace of current technological developments.”

Software engineer Brandon Church laughed at the idea that the global police agency wanted to play guard to the metaverse.

“[The metaverse] is just an idea at the moment. The problem with ideas is that sometimes they never see the light of day. So these guys [Interpol] are working on policing an idea? I’m seriously wondering [where they are going with this],” Church told MetaNews.

Arseny Myakotnikov, cofounder and CMO of drive-to-earn Metadrive, believes the Interpol initiative goes against the ethos of decentralization, a key foundational principle of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and Web3.

“Each metaverse must exist as a separate digital universe, where investors would be able to set their own rules and regulations based on the weight of their votes through decentralized voting within the project’s DAO,” he says

“It’s important to stress that most of the violations mentioned by the Interpol cannot be committed at the current stage of metaverse technology development.”

Interpol is an international organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation and crime control. It was created 100 years ago and is made of 195 member countries.

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Business

Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

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Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, has reportedly won court approval for the acquisition of VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, after the Federal Trade Commission attempted to block the deal.

Also read: Lawsuit Filed Against Meta, Snap, TikTok for Mental Health Crisis

A US district judge, Edward Davila in San Jose California, “denied the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the proposed transaction” in a sealed decision on Wednesday, reported Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the ruling.

Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”

Following the news, shares of Meta were slightly positive on Wednesday afternoon.

Facebook and The FTC also declined to comment with Bloomberg’s query citing the sealed nature of Davila’s decisions.

Push for Metaverse

The reported victory in this case may boost Mark Zuckerberg’s push towards the Metaverse. Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

Meta Quest Pro for $1500 and Meta Quest 3 are also in the company’s VR line-up, which has already developed VR spaces for work and play.

The Supernatural, developed by Within, was one of the first subscription-based services on the original Meta Quest.

Supernatural, a fitness app that features video instructors and motion-tracked workout routines, carries similarities to Meta’s successful fitness VR music game Beat Saber. Beat Saber was also acquired by Meta in 2019.

 Meta’s Dominance

A trial before the FTC’s administrative judge will start on Feb. 13. The FTC will also decide if it will continue with the case. Lina Khan, the chair of the FTC, was appointed by US President Joe Biden to bolster antitrust enforcement as a key principle of his administration’s economic policy. Hence, if this order stands, this loss to Meta will be a significant setback for Khan.

The FTC sued Meta back in July, arguing this acquisition would expand its dominance in the consumer VR market, highlighting its purchase of Beat Saber three years ago. The agency even emphasized that the addition of Within would even eliminate a “beneficial rivalry” between the two companies.

At the time, “the case was) based on ideology and speculation, not evidence, the idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

It’s still to be decided whether this will be the end of this story or not, as the FTC has declined to comment.

“Out of respect for the court’s orders, the FTC is not in a position to comment at this time,” FTC director of public affairs Douglas Farrar told The Verge.

Within would be the third start-up acquired by social media giants over the last decade if this case ends here and Meta purchases one more VR start-up. Previously, Meta acquired Oculus in 2014 before purchasing Beat Saber in 2019.

 

 

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