Facebook’s Metaverse Heralds a Brave New Underworld of Metacrime

But virtually every one of these components presents
significant risks for malign exploitation, as well. Some of the threats that
immediately stand out include fraud, money laundering, child exploitation,
disinformation, and cyberattacks, just to name a few. That the virtual world
Zuckerberg wants to invent might open this Pandora’s box of deviant
digitization should come as no surprise. In fact, the metaverse was literally born out of a criminal conceit: Stephenson used the metaverse as the backdrop for
the plot of his breakout novel, Snow Crash, in which a mobbed-up,
pizza-delivering hacker hero navigates a dystopian, virtual reality–fused world
to unravel the mystery behind the synthetic drug after which he named his book.

Dr. David Utzke, who is now the senior director of cryptoeconomic technology at Mastercard, started raising alarms about the
emergence of a malevolent metaverse with his previous employer, the IRS Criminal Investigations Cybercrimes HQ a year ago. His concerns
have only grown since then: “Companies
like Facebook—now Meta—Microsoft, Roblox, Epic are all planning their version
of the metaverse,” Utzke tells The New Republic. “But this concept, a
term originated by Neal Stephenson … is the
idea of a singular virtual reality–based environment with the idea of escaping
reality—much like what was portrayed in the movie version of the novel Ready
Player One.

“Because this environment is completely unpoliced, just as
with AR/VR environments today, terrorists, cartels, and other bad actors have
the capability to act on real-world events,” Utzke said. “This is just the tip of the spear.” 

While several media pundits have cast aspersions on the
company formerly known as Facebook’s pivot, it isn’t the only firm gearing
up to go spelunking in virtual worlds. Microsoft is also plunging into the
metaverse, according to a company press
and accompanying marketing video. Unlike
Meta, which appears to be prioritizing social connectivity, gaming, and
entertainment, Microsoft is focusing on purposing its vision of the
metaverse for enterprise use cases involving “collaborative and shared
holographic experiences, with the productivity tools of Microsoft Teams.”

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