BRUSSELS – Facebook informant Frances Haugen warned on Tuesday that the “metaverse”, the all-encompassing virtual reality world promised by the social media giant, will be addictive and rob people of even more personal information, giving the struggling company yet another monopoly on the Internet.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Haugen said her former employer was quick to usher in the metaverse because of the intense pressures she faced after she uncovered deep-seated problems at the company and stepped up legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on big tech companies.
“If you don’t like the conversation, you try to change it,” said the former product manager-turned-informant. The documents she handed over to authorities and her testimony to lawmakers have caught the world’s attention as they provide insight into what Facebook may have known about the damage its social media platforms could do. She is in the midst of a series of appearances before European lawmakers and experts setting rules for social media companies.
Meta, the new name of Facebook’s parent company, has denied trying to distract from the challenges she faces in promoting the metaverse. “This is not true. We have been working on this internally for a long time,” the company said in a statement.
He stressed that he is working on the responsible construction of the metaverse – a kind of Internet, brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. CEO Mark Zuckerberg described it as a “virtual environment” that you can enter – instead of just staring at a screen – and reoriented Facebook’s business model to that, including renaming the company Meta.
The launch of this new brand is actually drawing attention to the company, the company said in a statement, adding that if it didn’t want a thorough scrutiny, it would have delayed or canceled the launch altogether.
But the new focus on the metaverse poses a whole host of new dangers, Haugen said. In the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, which used the phrase, “it was a thing people used to numb themselves when their life was dire,” she said.
“In addition to the fact that this immersive environment is highly addictive and encourages people to disconnect from the reality in which we really live,” she said, “it also worries me on a level – the metaverse will require us, a lot more sensors in our homes and in our workplaces ”, forcing users to give up most of their data and their privacy.
She said employees of companies using the metaverse would have no choice but to participate in the system or quit their jobs.
“If your employer decides that they are now a metaverse, you have to provide a lot more personal information to a company that has demonstrated that it is lying when it is in their best interest to do so,” she said.
And she warned the public not to expect more transparency.
“With Facebook, they have demonstrated that they can hide behind a wall. They keep making unforced mistakes, they keep doing things that put their own profit over our safety, ”she said.
Haugen said Facebook’s systems are fueling online hate and extremism, failing to protect young people from malicious content, and that the company has no incentive to tackle the problems, in revelations that shed light on an internal crisis at a company that provides free services to 3 billion. people.
To substantiate her allegations, she made a series of disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also submitted to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. Edited versions received by Congress were received by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.
In an interview on Tuesday, she expressed surprise that the company has shifted its focus to an entirely new field at a time when it is facing such harsh criticism in areas in which it already operates.
“They’re looking to hire 10,000 engineers to work on video games, even though they haven’t really taken care of the security of their core product,” Haugen said.
She personally blamed Zuckerberg for this.
“So given that I see this model of choice where he prioritizes growth and expansion rather than the belief that he has good, I think this is a leadership failure,” she said.
The company denied that it prioritizes profit over safety. “Yes, we are a business and we make a profit, but the idea that we do it at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands what our own commercial interests are,” the company said in a statement, adding that it plans to spend over $ 5 billion. in 2021 on safety and security issues, and more than 40,000 people are working to keep users safe.
Zuckerberg previously dismissed Haugen’s claims as “a coordinated effort” to create a false picture of the company.
But officials in Washington and European capitals are taking her statements seriously. On Monday, European Union lawmakers questioned her intensively before applauding her at the end of a two-and-a-half hour hearing.
The EU is developing new digital rules for a block of 27 countries that call for rein in large digital gatekeepers by requiring them to be more transparent about the algorithms that determine what people see in their channels and to make them more accountable for the content on their channels. platforms.
Facebook has said it is largely supportive of the regulations, with legislative efforts in the EU and the United Kingdom much further than in the US.
Haugen made stops in London and Berlin to speak with officials and lawmakers, and spoke at a technical conference in Lisbon. She will also speak to French lawmakers in Paris on Wednesday.
Chan reported from London.