The metaverse is coming, but when it comes to marketing in this ‘brave new virtual world’ — are we ready? Billy Loizou explores.
Chris Wylie, the Cambridge Analytical whistleblower that spurred a massive overhaul of privacy practices and legislation across the globe and author of Mindfuck: Cambridge Analytica and “The Plot to Break America” recently spoke with Cheetah Digital’s CMO Richard Jones about the metaverse, marketing and the future of privacy.
According to Wylie, the answer to the above question is a resounding no. In fact, it might be best to start pumping the breaks on the metaverse now before it infiltrates our daily lives.
Likening the metaverse to a physical entity like a skyscraper or an airplane, Wylie paints a picture of how digital worlds should be architected with so-called fire exits or other protections. It should have a building code of sorts, protecting its users. It should protect their privacy, and, importantly, their mental health.
The metaverse is thought to be built to allow humans to freely roam around. However, the reality is, it could be designed to present its users with a particular narrative that slants their reality instead.
“It’s something that we as citizens, not just as marketers, need to consider. Us, our children, and their children’s children will get deeper into a digital society,” Jones says.
“We need to ask questions — “Is there a need for a regulatory body or some layer of societal protections?” — as the metaverse rolls out and touches all aspects of our lives.”
Constructing a new privacy framework
There are more safety regulations for a toaster in a kitchen than there are for a platform that touches a billion people. Wylie says, it’s time for change. The best way to realise that change is to start at the source.
“A big part of the issue is that we are not framing the conversation around those who are responsible. The engineers and architects. The things that are causing harm are the products of architecture and engineering,” says Wylie.
“When you look at how we relate other products of technology and other products of engineering whether that’s in aerospace, civil engineering, pharmaceuticals, etc; there are safety standards. There are inspections. We need to start scrutinising the technological constructions on the internet to ensure that there are regulatory frameworks in place to create a safer environment.”
Personalising experiences in the metaverse
Today, many use smart devices for tracking health statistics, communicating with loved ones, and entertainment. Wylie predicts that in the coming decades, these smart devices will have a stronger hold on users. Smart devices may become the only way that they can interact with modern society.
“Imagine 10 or 20 years from now where the internet evolves into the metaverse. You can’t participate in society without entering this augmented reality. And then imagine an institution like Fox News taking over people’s reality. Not just what they watch on TV, but literally, what they see,” he says.
Even more, Wylie questions what happens when people begin personalising their experiences to suit their preferences. For example, racists could eliminate people of colour from their view. Or people could create a society where they walk down the street and no longer see homeless people. They no longer see larger societal problems.
“What happens to a society when we no longer fully understand what’s happening around us, and the only people who do are those in charge of augmenting it,” he asks. “That’s a really important question, and it’s not far-fetched.”
At Face(book) value
Despite Facebook’s, now called Meta, attention-grabbing algorithms that encourage one-sided views and fuel disinformation, marketers continue to pump large sums of money into its platform every year. But is it worth it? Are marketers correct to believe that Facebook’s data is as valuable as they think it is?
According to Wylie, absolutely. “From a purely functional standpoint, yes. It’s incredibly valuable data,” he admits.
However, marketers using that data to create personalised adverts isn’t the problem. The problem is a bit more involved than that.
“There’s a difference between personalised advertising and creating an entire ecosystem using that logic,” Wylie points out.
“When you look at the news feed that Facebook and other social media platforms provide to users, it extends this logic that originated for advertising, showing content that is relevant to you.
“It’s not just the basic things that make your ads more efficient, and also less annoying for the people receiving them. It extends to, ‘You should only see things that engage you the most, full stop, in all information that you consume,’ to the point where the only information that you consume is the thing that usually makes you really angry because that’s what’s going to make you click on stuff. And that’s different from marketing.”
Doing the right thing
Wiley offers support to marketers and advertisers as they navigate a tech-enabled society. Don’t trust a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is Wiley’s advice.
“The tool that you’re using, that you love so much, is probably one of your biggest threats. While advertisers cringe at the idea of regulations that limit what they’re allowed to do, in the long run, regulations might be beneficial for the viability of the industry,” he says.
“Don’t get dragged down by bad practices within an industry that is behaving badly. There is a substantial loss of trust in platforms like Facebook because it continuously doesn’t listen to consumers. It doesn’t respect consumers. Siding yourself with that industry could backfire in the long run.”
Wiley advises asking yourself these two questions as a simple rule of thumb when considering privacy and the misuse of data in advertising:
- If you’re using personal data, would you be comfortable asking a random person on the street the questions to create that database?
- Would somebody reasonably expect to have their data used in that way?
If the answer is yes to both, then it’s probably OK.
In summary, metaverse or not, it really doesn’t matter where you engage your customers. The reality is zero-party data, loyalty, and thinking through the value exchange of how you engage with a customer are all vital components. They are all going to be important as the metaverse rolls out, and we move into this new era of privacy.
Billy Loizou is the vice president, Go To Market APAC at Cheetah Digital.
The Metaverse, Marketing and Future of Privacy special talk track is available to view here.