Vice News reports in a recent article that Facebook (now called Meta) plans to essentially record, predict, and monetize human behavior by convincing users to transition into working, socializing, and playing in a virtual environment entirely controlled by the company. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously described virtual reality as the “next major computing platform,” where all our online interaction will play out in a form of virtualized physical presence thanks to VR headsets like the Meta-owned Oculus Quest 2. GLENN CHAPMAN/AFP/Getty Images Facebook has claimed that it has “no current plans” to collect physical motion data such as head tracking and eye movements in an attempt to predict behaviors and target ads. But the Oculus headsets did make it mandatory to log into Facebook to use the devices linking a user’s Oculus data to their Facebook profile.
The company has since been pressured to remove this feature. Vice News reports: Screenshot: Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg envisions himself inside his “Metaverse” online space. (Facebook) With Meta, it’s safe to assume the predictive algorithms at work will be functionally the same as its predecessor. Data is collected about human behavior, which is then used to build profiles on users and automatically prioritize content they are more likely to interact with. Facebook itself proved the effectiveness of this manipulation with an “emotional contagion” experiment it secretly conducted on users in 2012, which showed that changing a user’s feed to show positive or negative content altered the types of content they were likely to post. This type of algorithmic manipulation forms the core business model of Facebook and countless other apps and social platforms. As one anonymous Silicon Valley data scientist put it in a 2015 paper by Harvard emeritus Shoshanna Zuboff, the goal of algorithmic social platforms like Facebook is “to change people’s actual behavior at scale [...] identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.” Researchers have found that this algorithmic “nudging” is possible in embodied virtual spaces too, where the collection of intimate data about physical body movements provides new ways to influence human behavior on a large scale. Companies like RealEyes and Affectiva have marketed AI that they say can predict human emotions by analyzing body language and facial expressions—a claim that is fiercely contested by AI experts but being widely deployed anyway. In one notable study, researchers determined that AI-controlled digital avatars can be used in virtual spaces to push people into accepting certain political views.
The left-wing outlet Slate also recently came to a similar conclusion, writing: The metaverse, as it is being marketed, is a broad concept that incorporates a lot of the virtual- and augmented-reality schtick of The Matrix and Minority Report. It’s a new world to explore and a new dimension overlaying the old one. Zuckerberg describes it as “a persistent, synchronous environment” that is “going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles.” It’s clear that Zuckerberg the geek is excited. He sees the metaverse as the next great leap for the internet, analogous to the movement to smartphones and the mobile web. But what’s new here? Don’t we already have Gmail, Fitbit, and Second Life? One key difference is that this embodied internet entails new sensors monitoring us while we browse, interact, and move about the world—lots of new sensors. Each new generation of Facebook hardware has added more.
The heart of all recent versions of the Oculus VR headset is “Oculus Insight,” an A.I. tracking system that uses three types of sensors: sensors tracking the orientation and movements of the headset and controllers, four built-in headset cameras mapping out your room, and LEDs in the controllers tracked by the headset, all of which feed Insight to help it “track your position and environment in real-time with sub-millimeter precision.” Oculus controllers now contain capacitive sensors which finely detect the movements of your fingers. Oculus also integrates with your phone and other devices for heart-rate and fitness tracking. Zuckerberg has hinted at and demoed face- and eye-tracking for future Quest/Cambria models, and recent leaks of the Quest Pro have suggested fingerprint sensors. In the parallel world of augmented reality, Facebook’s new Ray-Ban smart glasses contain cameras for taking photos/videos and a microphone for taking calls.
The addition of more sensors and cameras increases the amount of egocentric data that Facebook can collect. Read more at Vice News here. Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address email@example.com.
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