Facebook stated that it will hire 10,000 European Union workers over the next five-years to work on its new computing platform. It promises to connect people virtually, but there are concerns about privacy and how the social network can gain more control over users’ online lives.
In a blog posting Sunday, the company stated that these high-skilled workers would help to build “the metaverse”, a futuristic concept for connecting online using augmented and virtual realities.
Although Facebook executives are promoting the metaverse as the next great thing after mobile internet, their track record in predicting future trends is shaky. Four years ago, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had hoped to take virtual vacations with loved ones through a headset. Or that he could use a smartphone camera to virtually improve his apartment.
It is also facing antitrust investigations by former whistleblowers and concerns over how it handles political and vaccine-related misinformation.
According to Javier Olivan (vp of central products), and Nick Clegg (vp of global affairs), “As We Begin the Journey of Bringing the Metaverse to Life, the Need for Highly Specified Engineers is One of Facebook’s Most Pressing Priorities,” the blog post was written by Javier Olivan, vp of central products, and Nick Clegg.
Facebook’s recruiters target Germany, France and Spain for their hiring drive. According to the company, it had more than 63,000 employees around the world as of June 2013, up 21% from last year.
Metaverse is basically a huge virtual world that millions can access in real-time using avatars. They can use it to buy virtual land or clothing, or even pay with cryptocurrency.
Facebook acknowledges that not all companies will be able to operate the metaverse. Epic Games, Fortnite’s maker, has raised $1 billion from investors in order to fund its long-term plans to build the metaverse.
“There are not going to be any metaverses that cater to particular companies,” said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst who tracks immersive technology for Gartner.
However, there are concerns that Facebook and a few other Silicon Valley giants could end up monopolizing this metaverse and using it to profit from personal information. This mirrors the current situation with the internet.
Facebook announced last month a $50 million investment in global research and partnerships to support civil rights groups, non-profits, governments, and universities to develop responsible products for the metaverse. However, the company stated that many of these products would not be fully realized in 10 to 15 years.
Neal Stephenson, a writer of science fiction novel “Snow Crash”, coined the term metaverse. However, it has been revived in the tech industry as tech giants and startups try to claim a new trend.
Nguyen stated that some of this involves “a little bit of metaverse washing,” which is applying the term to existing initiatives for augmented reality to capitalize on the hype.
He said that Facebook’s latest push would help boost their profile as a leader in metaverse initiatives, at least temporarily. “But, like any major technology trend there will be competing ideas. There will also be competing standards.”
Facebook responded to an article in the Wall Street Journal that highlighted Facebook’s inability to detect hateful and violent posts and posted a blog post Sunday defending its anti-hate speech approach.
Two Facebook whistleblowers were invited to testify before a British parliamentary committee working on legislation regarding online safety. The bill proposes large fines and other penalties for internet firms that fail to remove or limit harmful material, such as child sexual abuse and terrorist content.
Sophie Zhang is a data scientist who raised concerns after discovering evidence of online manipulation in countries like Honduras before she was fired. She stated that social media companies should be required by law to follow consistent policies, and added that this is not what happened at Facebook.
She said that fake accounts that were not directly linked to political figures were much easier to remove than the ones that were.
Zhang stated that this had a “perverse impact in that it creates incentives for major political figures essentially to commit a crime openly.” Zhang compared it with police taking one year to arrest a burglar, who was a member in Parliament but didn’t wear masks.
Zhang stated, “That’s an analogy for what is happening at Facebook.”
Next week, Frances Haugen will testify before the committee. She made public internal Facebook research she had copied earlier in the year and then quit her job. Haugen, who was accused of using Facebook to incite violence against children and harm their privacy, testified before the U.S. Senate panel. Her appearance in Britain will mark the beginning of a European tour that will include European regulators and lawmakers.