Data Governance in the Metaverse – Who Really Owns Your Virtual Self?

Data Governance in the Metaverse – Who Really Owns Your Virtual Self?

I am writing this article assuming that you are familiar with Data Governance and its functions. However, I’ll be using Mark Zuckerberg’s words to describe the metaverse. Zuckerberg previously described the metaverse as “being inside the internet” rather than just looking at it through a screen.

Today, you can be part of a virtual world, make friends, be a different person, purchase items, and immerse yourself in a world different from real life. Brands are starting to realize the potential by considering ‘setting up shop’ and having the things that you purchase in the virtual world turn up on your doorstep in the real world i.e., takeaways. This means that you could leave work on a Friday and step into your virtual world until Sunday evening. I am not going to discuss the merits or impacts on society here but I’d like to look at data governance in this world.

It is clear that as the concept of the metaverse evolves and gains prominence, questions surrounding data governance and privacy are becoming increasingly important. The metaverse's immersive nature and integration with real-world data create complex challenges for data management and protection.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Data collection and privacy concerns in the metaverse

The metaverse's ability to collect data about users' behavior, expressions, and interactions presents privacy concerns similar to those in the real world. Users may not fully understand the extent of data collection or how their data is being used. Users’ understanding of how this alter-reality or ‘not reality’ could impact their reality and choices in the real-life environment. Transparency in data collection practices, informed consent, and the ability for users to control their data are essential components.

The metaverse connects a person to their ‘avatar’ and as soon as that happens, it can generate data such as facial expressions, gestures, and other reactions. In the ‘real’ world this would be classified as sensitive personal data. So, given the ‘immersion’ in virtual reality, would users understand or even make the same decisions about their data in the real world?

Ownership and control of data

Determining ownership of data within the metaverse can be tricky. Users' avatars and interactions generate data, but who owns that data? Is it the platform provider, the user, or a combination of both? Clearly, defining ownership rights and providing users with the ability to manage and delete their data is crucial.

If I purchase a takeaway in the virtual world, the data is then sent into the real world for my takeaway to arrive, but in the virtual world who else has access to that data given the integration of the data across my virtual reality?

Legislation and regulation

As the metaverse becomes more integrated with the physical world, existing data protection laws might need adaptation to adequately cover virtual environments. New legislation that considers the unique aspects of the metaverse, while also upholding user rights, is essential. Striking a balance between regulation and not stifling creativity is a challenge that lawmakers need to address.

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Data Governance in the Metaverse – Who Really Owns Your Virtual Self?

User experience

Balancing data protection with a seamless user experience is vital. Users may not want intrusive pop-ups and complicated terms and conditions every time they perform an action in the metaverse. Designing user-friendly ways to convey data collection practices and obtain consent is crucial.

Cybersecurity in the metaverse

With the merging of virtual and physical worlds, cybersecurity becomes paramount. Ensuring that user data is protected from cybercriminals is essential to maintaining user trust in the metaverse.

Industry collaboration

Collaboration between tech companies, policymakers, and user advocacy groups is necessary to create comprehensive data governance frameworks. These frameworks should consider different aspects, including data collection, usage, storage, sharing, and user rights.

Education and awareness

Just as in the real world, user education is crucial. Users need to understand the risks and benefits of the metaverse and be empowered to make informed decisions about their data.

Ethical considerations

Beyond legal regulations, ethical considerations should guide the behavior of entities operating in the metaverse. Companies should adopt ethical data practices that prioritize user privacy and security. 

As a broad example, a fundamental issue that affects our society today is the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals or groups. This gives them a great advantage in the economy, the politics, and the online world.

Many of the problems we face, such as censorship, propaganda, unfair algorithms, irresponsibility, data breaches, and others, are rooted in the fact that some dominant players have a lot of sway and authority over our lives, both online and offline.

Innovation and safeguards

Striking a balance between innovation and data safeguards is challenging but necessary. Regulations should encourage creativity while ensuring that innovation doesn't come at the cost of user privacy.

International cooperation

As the metaverse transcends national borders, international cooperation on data governance and privacy standards becomes important to prevent fragmented regulatory environments.

In conclusion, the metaverse introduces a new dimension of data governance challenges. Balancing user privacy, data protection, innovation, and user experience will require careful consideration, collaboration, and adaptable regulatory frameworks. As the metaverse continues to evolve, it's essential to ensure that users' rights and privacy are respected while fostering an environment that encourages creativity and exploration.

So, for now, as the physical world data governance hasn’t caught up with the virtual world –  I’ll use my VR to work out, but I am not going to build a virtual world where my physical and virtual world merge and data that I wouldn’t share in the physical world is available in the virtual world.

I would be interested in readers’ thoughts –

  • Do you have a virtual avatar – have you thought about the data impacts in your virtual world?

  • Is the virtual world too far removed from you right now?

  • Given Data Governance in the ‘real’ world is already a challenge, does this exacerbate the problem?

About the Author:

Tina Salvage is Lead Data Governance Architect - Group Functions, Bupa Global. She is an experienced management professional with a strong background in the financial services industry, specializing in data management and governance. Salvage has extensive experience in financial crime compliance and money laundering. Her passion lies in building data management strategies that enable organizations to achieve their goals.

She has a proven track record of creating and embedding strategic transformational change to business processes and systems across departments, working closely with key stakeholders, external suppliers, and the executive board. At Bupa, Salvage focuses on building strong relationships to enable others to thrive. She shares the story, attracts the right people, and helps deliver the data strategy.

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