The conception of a control mechanism, giving the position of any element within an open environment at any given instant (whether animal in a reserve or human in a corporation, as with an electronic collar), is not necessarily one of science fiction. Félix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position–licit or illicit–and effects a universal modulation.Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control
It takes no stretch of the imagination to hypothesize that Meta’s (Facebook’s) endgame in the metaverse is the sort of stuff that NSA dreams are made of. Young and old ‘wired in’ to the digital fabric of the metaverse, their every move and utterance encoded in a steady bitstream and fired at Meta’s servers. Twenty-four-slash-seven.
Yep, I’m talking about deep, pervasive surveillance that every citizen blindly opts into with a dumb grin on their face.
Keep Calm and Metaverse On
This opening hypothesis might come off as a little… how do I say it…? Conspiracy theorist? Dystopian…? Whatever. You say potato, I say patatah, right?
Except, I’m not saying potato. Nor patatah.
Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to conjure that this opening hypothesis might not be too far from the truth. Sure it seems far-fetched at first. But such is Facebook’s/Meta’s hunger for data that Zuckerberg’s salivations over this thought are almost palpable.
What’s worse is that Zuckerberg’s not the only one we need to worry about here. Even longtime privacy advocate Apple has recently lept onto this slippery pervasive surveillance slope, proving once again that what a company says and what it does are generally two diametrically opposed things. Sounds like politicians… or an oil and gas company.
Anyway, in case you missed it, Apple’s foray comes in the form of something called “client-side scanning.” The idea here is to use every iPhone users’ device against them, constantly scanning their photos and sending the results back to Apple HQ. Its stated purpose is to keep Apple and half a dozen other TLAs (Three Letter Agencies) informed about any users with illicit content on their devices.
Think About the Children
Now, of course, Apple’s client-side scanning is being sold under the guise of protecting the children. It always is. But, as is always the case, the blast radius of these sorts of measures always goes much further than it should.
Take the FOSTA-SESTA act, for example. It did almost nothing to stop the trafficking of children. It also wasn’t needed to take down websites supposedly aiding and abetting child sex trafficking. Remember, Backpage (the poster child for why we needed FOSTA-SESTA) went down several months before the legislation was introduced. And none of the defendants in that case were ever even charged under it.
What FOSTA-SESTA did do, however, is prompt companies like Google to start rummaging around in peoples’ drives and just generally intruding deeper into people’s personal affairs. Oh, and it saw a whole bunch of bizarre cases where companies with no hand in trafficking children found themselves in court, accused of child sex trafficking.
In essence, now that senators had, at long last, lived out their wildest fantasies of carving away at Section 230s flesh, internet companies found themselves with legitimizing motivations and justifications for their otherwise questionable intrusions into people’s personal affairs.
In other words, if you don’t like someone watching everything you do, too bad. What we once called stalking, we now call saving the children.
Back to the Metaverse
Okay okay, so we’re getting a little tangential here. But our little divergence isn’t entirely without reason, however. Remember the key point here—the blast radius is always larger than what it’s “supposed” to be. In other words, what starts out as innocent “protection of the children” or “building the rainbows and unicorns Zuckerverse” usually ends in a whole lot more. In fact, quite often it starts out as a whole lot more… until the PR people get involved and tell everyone to pretend like it’s anything but what it really is.
Case in point: EU documents suggest that governments were already lining up to leverage Apple’s client-side scanning for all manner of things beyond just protecting the children. And all this was happening well before Apple even announced its intentions to the public.
Granted, the EU documents do dilly dally around with language like “any actions taken have to balance these interests carefully against the principles of necessity, proportionality, and subsidiarity.” But everyone knows that sort of language is essentially meaningless in practice.
Don’t believe me? Let’s rewind the clock a little.
Why Wait for the Metaverse to Invent Your Own Reality?
Cast your mind back to January of this year. Do you remember what happened? Yep, Capitol Hill riots.
Now, it’s no secret that Trump was secretly cheering from the sidelines as his angry minions stormed Capitol Hill. Pom poms in hand and decked out in a miniskirt, no doubt. Of course, people died. National security was threatened. All just a bit of fun and patriotism, right?
But wait. What happened only a few months earlier? That’s right. Trump had declared that George Floyd protesters were domestic terrorists.
Now, what do you think happens here? What do you think the words “principle,” “necessity,” “proportionality,” and “subsidiarity” mean under the dutiful watch of a petulant administration with dictatorial ambition (see above)?
Probably the same thing as “presidential pardon” and “executive order.”
There’s No Such Thing as an Exclusive License for Bad Tans and Poor Judgment
Before you lull yourself into thinking that something like that’s never going to happen again, let’s all take a moment of silence to remember the good ol’ days. You know, like that time when chanting “Trump for president” was nothing but a fun poke at celebrity culture and the man himself.
It seemed absurd then, and yet it happened. So let’s not pretend for a moment that it can’t happen again. It can and will. And, just in case the thought of another four years of Trump puts a smile on your dial, remember this: a bad tan and poor judgment aren’t the sole preserve of the right.
But anyway, why does this even matter? What’s a temperamental president and deep political divide got to do with Meta’s metaverse ambitions and Apple’s defense of the children?
Well, everything. You will see.
But I Ain’t Got Nothing to Hide in the Metaverse…
There’s an oft-heard quip amongst the pro-surveillance fraternity. And it works particularly well when chanted in perfect harmony. Suddenly, skeptics find themselves transported into a transcendental state where one single universal truth becomes manifest: “If you ain’t got nothing to hide…”
But here’s the thing. Maybe, once upon a time, that might have been true. In fact, you might have even been proud to show off your white picket fence and two-and-a-half children to the world. And hey, that thing with the latex and three-inch heels… that was private between you and your mistress, right?
Well, think again.
Know that, if Meta or Apple has any say in how things play out, any walks on the wild side you take will be under the strict supervision of whoever has the keys to the backdoor. So don’t forget, there are still states that outlaw sodomy, and only three of them specifically target same-sex instances of said act. That it only happened through the aid of prosthetics… well that’s yet to be tested in the court of law.
Everyone’s Got Something to Hide in the Metaverse
Okay, so maybe you really are the model citizen and you really don’t have anything to hide. Okay, fine. Maybe you were once upon a time.
However, the reality is that, for all practical purposes, we really do live in a dystopia of totalizing nihilism. God is dead. Good and evil is nothing but an imaginary force that bends in the hands of those in tune with the will to power. And the rest of us. Well, we’re all just living it up in Jonestown, sippin’ on cool-aid, baby.
Now, for most of us, this state of affairs worked well when the church and state were sacred institutions outside the purview of our feeble minds. But then the internet came along. Many of us saw the light. And everyone else… well, they were just plain old wrong. Or radicalized.
Said another way, that photo on your phone where you’re standing up for what you think is right… that’s potentially illicit content, depending on what algorithm is running that day. Good and bad—i.e., what you should and shouldn’t hide—is now, more than ever, in a manifold state of metastability. Capitol Hill rioters and “facist antifa” BLM protesters are both simultaneously fighting for the good of the nation, and domestic terrorists. Take your pick. Trump did.
Can’t we all just get along?
Okay, so maybe growing division in our society is just some temporary dark age. Once upon a time, some us thought we lived in a more harmonious, united society. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll all emerge in a few short years united once more. Once again, we’ll be living in the best of all possible worlds. But better, because it will be the metaverse. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Wait. Scratch that. We’re human. We’re naturally inclined to believe the darndest things that seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. And we’re forever in need of social experiments to test our limits, wake us from our stupor, and generally guide us towards the light.
So ask yourself this: if it weren’t for the miscreants from the the days of yore, where do you think we’d be now?
Here, let me answer it with a picture.
The hyper-personalized Gallilean affair
Let’s be clear here. The danger here is not technology. Phones, computers, VR headsets, the metaverse… whatever. They’re not the danger. The danger is the concentration of immense power in the hands of a few. Sure, unlike the catholic church, Meta and Apple might just be sincere in their desire to protect the children. But, that doesn’t really make the situation that much better.
In many ways, the world that Zuckerberg and co. wish to build is kind of like doing the dark ages, but at scale. Unlike the clergy, algorithms scale infinitely; our eternal desire to expose election corruption/cancel offensive thinkers/do whatever it is you do online… well, all that’s just going leave you permanently exposed to the risk of your own Gallilean affair, persecuted for defending what you believe in.
But let’s just look at the world around us.
Well-meaning laws that you thought you abided by. Yep, they’ll come back to bite you like a snake biting you in the rear. Acceptable behavior for others… yeah, that will be unacceptable for you. And all those “personalized experiences” in the metaverse that Zucks and co. want us all to live our lives through… well, would I be crazy to imagine they’ll just end up harming the mental health and wellbeing of innocent young children? (But don’t forget, we’re doing it all for the children.)
Let’s avoid the meta-monoverse
If there’s one thing that most of us can agree on, it’s that democracy, at least in principle, is a good thing. And I’m sure most of us don’t want a world/metaverse where, every time we strap on a VR headset, Zuckerberg and co suddenly see everything we do. We only have to look at a certain website’s statistics to know that this is true.
But as true as these two statements are, it’s equally true that many of us also see this kind of future as some sort of inevitability, as though it’s an inescapable vortex that we’ve already entered.
But not all big tech companies see it like this, and many are presenting alternatives the the Zuckerberg ultra-centralized metaverse.
The XRApplied meta-multiverse approach
While Jack’s efforts to build a decentralized social network are admirable, they’re not nearly enough in the context of the metaverse. There’s little point in sharing decentralized tweets if it’s done while strapped into a Meta Quest headset that’s streaming biometric data and a live feed of our surroundings back to ZuckHQ.
This is where companies like XRApplied (CSE: XRA) step in. Indeed, to quote from the XRApplied’s investor deck, we’re still at a stage where there is “significant room for a company like XRApplied to implement the best of all existing solutions in an agnostic manner using openXR solutions.”
In other words, we haven’t reached the tipping point, yet. We’re not inevitably “wired in” to the Zuckerberg-controlled metaverse. In fact, if only we think about the tools and platforms we use before we leap, it’s entirely avoidable. Twitter, XRApplied, and others are offering tools and solutions. We just have to use them.
(Featured image courtesy of XRApplied)
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