Back in July Facebook announced that it had spun up a new organization internally to begin building part of the metaverse, a series of interconnected virtual experiences and worlds that the company believes is the next step for human communication and interaction. As part of that effort Facebook this week announced that it’s earmarking $50 million to spend on external research and partnerships to help the company “ensure [our metaverse] products are developed responsibly.”

Although AR and VR technology is already here and available to consumers, most of what you can do with that immersive technology today is discrete experiences that aren’t related to each other. Contrast that with the internet, where you can seamlessly jump from one web page to another, even if those web pages belong to different companies and are hosted in different places.

The metaverse loosely defined as a sort of immersive internet where virtual experiences and worlds share some level of connectivity, interoperability, and identity (ie: a shared avatar across experiences). Facebook believes that the metaverse, alongside AR and VR, is core to what it often calls the “next computing platform,” which it has been aiming to get an early grip on ever since it acquired Oculus back in 2014.

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Facebook Creates New Internal Organization to Build “the Metaverse”

Now that the company has formally begun efforts to actually create the metaverse (or at least a portion of it), it has announced a $50 million “XR Programs and Research Fund” to help guide the company toward “building the metaverse responsibly.” The announcement was co-signed by Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, VP of Facebook Reality Labs, and Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs.

The metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone. Just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not. And it won’t be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10-15 years. While that’s frustrating for those of us eager to dive right in, it gives us time to ask the difficult questions about how they should be built.

We’ll work with experts in government, industry and academia to think through issues and opportunities in the metaverse. For instance, its success depends on building robust interoperability across services, so different companies’ experiences can work together. We also need to involve the human rights and civil rights communities from the start to ensure these technologies are built in a way that’s inclusive and empowering.

Here are a few key areas where we’ll work with others to anticipate the risks and get it right:

  • Economic opportunity: how we can give people more choice, encourage competition and maintain a thriving digital economy
  • Privacy: how we can minimize the amount of data that’s used, build technology to enable privacy-protective data uses and give people transparency and control over their data
  • Safety and integrity: how we can keep people safe online and give them tools to take action or get help if they see something they’re not comfortable with
  • Equity and inclusion: how we can make sure these technologies are designed inclusively and in a way that’s accessible

The company says that through its $50 million fund it will “collaborate with industry partners, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits and academic institutions to determine how to build these technologies responsibly.”

They also gave some examples of partners they are already working with through the program.

As of now there’s no clear way to reach out to the company with a proposal to access the announced funding. It seems likely that they will keep access largely restricted to select partners.

SEE ALSO
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It’s good to know that Facebook is at least thinking about and committing money to soliciting external input on how it might responsibly build the metaverse. However, the company has been at the center of many controversies over the years involving privacy violations, user manipulation, political misinformation, and more.

In 2019 the Facebook was fined $5 billion by the US Federal Trade Commission for its handling of user privacy. At the time CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “we’re going to make some major structural changes to how we build products and run this company.” While this new fund focused on responsibly building the metaverse seems related to that new outlook, it remains to be seen how much the fund’s findings will actually influence the roadmap of Facebook’s metaverse products.

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  • Holdup

    When 101 create the oasis

    • Ad

      It was legit a failure of the book to not have them create it. There’s no analogue for some random kindly old man creating something like that. It basically the book saying “don’t ever take any actual lessons from this.”

  • ale bro

    And evidently a responsible metaverse will require a Facebook account

    • Ad

      To me it’s worse. Like FarmVille doesn’t require a Facebook account, it’s Facebook. Their metaverse will be similar as much as they can manage to actualize it.

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  • Ad

    This is why I despise tech. One of the central structures of people’s lives in maybe at most a decade is going to be decided and determined by one of the worst companies to be involved with it and people act like this fund is reasonable.

    Besides the obvious about Facebook paying for this, we know from the leaks that Facebook actively suppresses and hides things that could get in their way. They are pathological liars and in their bubble they think they can do no wrong.

    The point of this is to A) identity low hanging fruit they can steer regulators and ethics minded people towards, so the only things that get regulated are irrelevant to them making money B) See what they can normalize and what will be harder C) Get ahead of anything too obvious about a metaverse they control, new forms of grotesque behavior (unless it drives engagement and makes them money) D) The little bit about “economic opportunity” means ads and Facebook marketplace. A combination of establishing those things as default and ethical goods (why do you hate content creators, they need ads?) and probably having these people come up with some new revenue streams for them. E) As always Facebook does not believe in privacy in the slightest, they see themselves as the gods of data where they should know everything and it’s only other people like your friends that you need privacy from. They literally think that because they don’t enjoy having data leak that they care about privacy. Their number one rule when they open their mouths is to gaslight you about privacy. F) Obviously to hedge against regulation generally and probably efforts like South Korea’s metaverse initiative which is built to prevent the world from being split between the digital colonialism of America and China.

    Interoperability isn’t on there, because to Facebook it makes no sense. If they don’t own the full stack then you shouldn’t be able to use things they don’t control. OpenXR means run any app in any hardware (although they’re not sharing) but they oppose adding full multi layer and multi app because they know that it leads to people getting inconvenient ideas like YUR or ad blockers. I know Facebook won’t own 100% of the metaverse but them having even as much control over it as Google has over the global smartphone market would be dangerous, and they would be far less open and evadable.

    Also Facebook runs its own internet right now, Facebook’s Basics program that they wanted to rule India with, their metaverse won’t be much different.

    • silvaring

      It’s easy to get carried away with sensationalism when talking about these things, but the fact that this company owns not only Whatsapp, but Instagram and Facebook should cause all of us to take a step back and consider just how bad this can all go for us. And you are so right, the gaslighting is off the charts, remember after the documentary ‘the social dilemma’ how they issued an official statement saying that their business model does not involve selling our data? What a bold faced lie that was. It’s completely shameless damage control based on utter lies in spite of so much evidence to the contrary.

      Unfortunately, its the devil we know… and we are stuck with their platforms until people wise up and choose an alternative (like telegram, or just stopping to go on facebook so much and scrolling through their feeds, or using their marketplace services etc).

      • Totius

        One possible alternative would be a no-profit open-source metaverse.
        But I don’t think this is realistic. It would require some serious organizational structure, because the dimension of the project is incomparably bigger that that necessary to develope an operating system

        • alxslr

          It can happen. Hope it does

        • Joshua Garcia

          I dont typically comment but there is a recent article by I wanna say the Washington Post about Tim Sweeney’s (EPIC CEO) view of the metaverse and how he opposes these big companies vision for the metaverse.

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    • alxslr

      It’s like big companies greenwashing, but with privacy and ethics. Just a marketing campaign. I really think they think we are all idiots.

  • Totius

    50M is ridiculously little money for the colossal task of developing the first steps of a metaverse

  • Mah