At its 28 October 'Facebook Connect 2021' event, Facebook announced an ambitious vision for a connected utopia: one that seamlessly links the virtual world to the physical, bringing together geographically separated people into the same virtual space – whether through world-building games, collaborative workplaces or in a virtual home.
It's all part of its grand plans to build the metaverse – which is why the company will now call itself Meta.
Facebook sees the metaverse as "the successor to the mobile internet", where interacting with brands and technology moves beyond a 2D screen to a lived, virtual or mixed reality.
At the core of delivering this experience is Facebook's VR headsets and AR glasses, which currently includes the popular Oculus Quest 2 and the Instagram-enabled Ray-Ban Stories specs. Mark Zuckerberg also teased a high-end VR headset that's currently in development called 'Project Cambria', due sometime next year.
The metaverse will take years to materialize of course, and much of Facebook's event merely painted what that dream could be. The biggest challenge ahead of Facebook (or Meta) won't be building the technology, but building a system that can coexist with international privacy and consumer protection regulation.
At the event, Nick Clegg, VP for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook (and former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK) said "we have years until the metaverse that we envision is fully realized", which should give legislators time to respond and react – a point Clegg and Zuckerberg addressed (albeit briefly) in the keynote presentation.
While the segment on privacy lasted only a few minutes, Zuckerberg emphasized the importance of building the metaverse for "privacy, safety and inclusion before the product even exists". Transparency on how the metaverse uses and collects data would also be a priority, along with easy to use safety controls.
Those are big promises for the company. Facebook is no stranger to controversial privacy-related legal battles and the public trust in the company is dwindling – as revealed in Facebook's own internal research leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen earlier this month.
If the damage is permanent, it'll be impossible for Facebook, in spite of the name change, to build the world it envisions.