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Experts highlight trust and safety practices for the metaverse

Creating a safe metaverse experience means bringing all stakeholders to the table, according to experts.

Businesses are likely to spend billions of dollars on the metaverse, which is why experts say that building trust and safety practices into the metaverse experience from the beginning is critical.

The metaverse -- a virtual world allowing consumers to shop, work, play, own land and conduct business -- is already prompting use cases for trust and safety policies, as situations like verbal abuse between avatars arise, said Manu Aggarwal, partner at global research firm Everest Group, during an online webinar. Trust and safety policies are business practices used to reduce risk to users of online platforms.

The metaverse will make trust and safety issues riskier and potentially costly because of the types of investments these platforms will attract, said Chris McClean, global lead for digital ethics at consulting firm Avanade.

"There are ways to spend money in social media or gaming environments, but it's nothing like spending $100,000 on an NFT [non-fungible token] or $1 million on a piece of virtual land," he said.

Challenges in the metaverse

McClean said privacy will be a significant challenge for consumers and businesses in the metaverse, as the types and amounts of data companies can collect increase. Critics have said, for instance, that VR headsets could enable biometric data collection.

"Metaverse has all kinds of new interfaces, so navigating that new reality is going to be tough," McClean said.

Abuse is cited as another problem. The metaverse is an immersive emotional experience, meaning that any kind of verbal attack will likely have more significant effects on the individual being attacked than in a traditional online setting.

"That's another big ethical consideration: mental and psychological safety," he said. "Are people comfortable being themselves in the metaverse and not being attacked?"

Creating a safe experience

If businesses want to cultivate a trusted brand in the metaverse, they need to focus on digital ethics issues ahead of time, McClean said.

While some of the considerations are extensions of current business practices around ethics, compliance and risk management, he noted that some policies specifically for the metaverse will be different, including around data privacy and security.

"You might have a big phishing attack when trying to buy land in a metaverse environment," McClean said. "You still have to block phishing attacks, but the interface and the subject matter will be different."

Even something as basic as how avatars can present themselves in the metaverse as employees might need an adjusted policy, he said.

Depending on how an industry sets up in the metaverse, whether it's for employee training or enabling financial transactions, different teams will be responsible for different functions, according to McClean.

It's essential we set up some rules and regulations in terms of how we should be behaving for a safe platform, but at the same time, monitor the behavior.
Abhijnan DasguptaPractice director, Everest Group

While the HR team might be responsible for employee training, the financial management and security teams will oversee financial transactions. McClean said it's crucial for businesses to designate an individual or team to manage all metaverse activities.

"Having one person overseeing all of your metaverse projects or initiatives is a really good idea," he said. Such a person will be responsible for ensuring "all of your ethics and risk assessment bases are covered."

Everest Group's Aggarwal said that creating a trust and safety framework means bringing all parties involved with the metaverse project to the table to "ensure a good experience for users."

Moderating the metaverse experience is another important factor for businesses to consider, said Abhijnan Dasgupta, practice director at Everest Group, in the webinar. He said human intervention in forms of content moderation and behavior control will be vital in the metaverse.

"It's essential we set up some rules and regulations in terms of how we should be behaving for a safe platform, but at the same time, monitor the behavior," he said.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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