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Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse

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BRUSSELS — Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned Tuesday that the “metaverse,” the all-encompassing virtual reality world at the heart of the social media giant’s growth strategy, will be addictive and rob people of yet more personal information while giving the embattled company another monopoly online.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Haugen said her former employer rushed to trumpet the metaverse recently because of the intense pressure it is facing after she revealed deep-seated problems at the company, in disclosures that have energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on Big Tech.
“If you don’t like the conversation, you try to change the conversation,” the former product-manager-turned-whistleblower said. The documents she has turned over to authorities and her testimony to lawmakers have drawn global attention for providing insight into what Facebook may have known about the damage its social media platforms can cause. She is in the midst of a series of appearances before European lawmakers and regulators who are drawing up rules for social media companies
Meta, the new name for the parent company of Facebook, denied it was trying to divert attention away from the troubles it faces by pushing the metaverse. “This is not true. We have been working on this for a long time internally,” the company said in a statement.
It stressed that it’s working to responsibly build the metaverse — essentially a series of interconnected virtual communities that will merge online life with real life. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that users will, for example, be able to attend virtual concerts or fence with holograms of Olympic athletes in the metaverse — and he refocused the entire company on creating it, including renaming the business Meta.
Launching that new brand, in fact, draws attention to the company, it said in a statement, adding that if it didn’t want the scrutiny it would have delayed or scrapped the launch altogether.
But the new focus on the metaverse creates a whole new set of dangers, Haugen said. In “Snow Crash,” the 1992 sci-fi novel that coined the phrase, “it was a thing that people used to numb themselves when their lives were horrible,” she said.
“So beyond the fact that these immersive environments are extremely addictive and they encourage people to unplug from the reality we actually live,” she said, “I’m also worried about it on the level of — the metaverse will require us to put many, many more sensors in our homes and our workplaces,” forcing users to relinquish more of their data and their privacy.
In a presentation last month, Zuckerberg described how the metaverse would allow for mixed-reality business meetings where some participants are physically present while others beam in as avatars. The company has launched virtual meeting software called Horizon Workrooms for use with its virtual reality headsets, so co-workers can (hopefully) better communicate, brainstorm and socialize virtually, instead of, say, looking at one another on a Zoom call grid.
But Haugen said employees of companies that use the metaverse would have little option but to participate in the system or leave their jobs.
“If your employer decides they’re now a metaverse company, you have to give out way more personal data to a company that’s demonstrated that it lies whenever it is in its best interests,” she said.
And she cautioned the public not to expect more transparency.
“They’ve demonstrated with regard to Facebook that they can hide behind a wall. They keep making unforced errors, they keep making things that prioritize their own profits over our safety,” she said.
Haugen has said Facebook’s systems amplify online hate and extremism, fail to protect young people from harmful content, and that the company lacks any incentive to fix the problems, in revelations that shed light on an internal crisis at the company that provides free services to 3 billion people.
To back up her allegations, she has made a series of disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission that were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.
In Tuesday’s interview, she expressed astonishment that the company would shift focus to a whole new realm while it is under such intense criticism about the areas where it is already working.
“They’re going to hire 10,000 engineers to work on video games when they haven’t actually gotten safety right on their main product,” Haugen said.
For that, she faulted Zuckerberg personally, saying he has exhibited a pattern of prioritizing growth over making sure Facebook is good for users.
“I think that is a failure of leadership,” she said. “Unless he wants to prioritize the safety of the platform, he should step aside and let someone else focus on that.”
The company denied that it’s putting profits over safety. “Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or well-being misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” it said, adding that it plans to spend more than $5 billion in 2021 on safety and security and employs more than 40,000 people who work on keeping users safe.
Zuckerberg has previously dismissed Haugen’s claims as a “coordinated effort” to paint a false picture of the company.
But officials in Washington and European capitals are taking her claims seriously. European Union lawmakers questioned her intensely Monday, before applauding her at the end of the 2 1/2 hour hearing.
The EU is drafting new digital rules for the 27-nation bloc that call for reining in big “digital gatekeepers,” requiring them to be more transparent about algorithms that determine what people see on their feeds and making them more accountable for the content on their platforms.
Facebook has said it largely supports regulations, with legislative efforts in the EU and United Kingdom much further along than those in the U.S. New rules could squeeze advertising revenue, but Meta’s stock price appears to have so far weathered the recent storm.
Haugen has made stops in London and Berlin to speak to officials and lawmakers and spoke at a tech conference in Lisbon. She also will address French lawmakers in Paris on Wednesday.

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Lamina1 Presents Inaugural “Open Metaverse Conference” Connecting the Worlds of Blockchain and the Metaverse for a Next-Gen Internet – Business Wire

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Featuring a keynote from co-founder and futurist Neal Stephenson, the first-of-its-kind event aims to empower creators and coders to build the Open Metaverse together
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Lamina1, a Layer 1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse, today announced its role as founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, a first-of-its-kind industry event bringing together the worlds of the Metaverse and Web3 to build a more open and immersive Internet. The two-day conference will take place from February 8-9, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, and will gather experts and builders spanning Metaverse experiences, Web3, and entertainment.

Co-founded by Neal Stephenson, renowned futurist and science fiction author who originally coined the term “Metaverse,” and cryptocurrency pioneer Peter Vessenes, founder of the first VC-backed Bitcoin company, Lamina1 will provide the infrastructure to empower rapid expansion of the Open Metaverse. As the founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, Lamina1 will provide a forum for critical conversations around identity, privacy and interoperability, while exploring how audience engagement, creative storytelling, and the technicalities of blockchain can work hand-in-hand to make the vision of the Open Metaverse a reality.
The Open Metaverse Conference will feature keynotes from renowned technologists and storytellers who are pioneering visions for the next era of the Internet. Attendees will hear from Lamina1 co-founders Neal Stephenson and Peter Vessenes, as well as Philip Rosedale, founder of virtual world Second Life (Linden Lab) and co-founder of virtual platform High Fidelity, John Gaeta, Oscar-winning VFX pioneer (The Matrix) and CCO of character persona company Inworld AI, Cathy Hackl, Metaverse and Web3 strategist and founder of design consultancy Journey, and other industry crossover leaders to be announced. Keynote sessions will be complemented by diverse speakers and side events spanning games, art, entertainment, and commerce. To connect these key areas of culture with the technology that enables them, the Open Metaverse Conference will also facilitate technological deep dives for attendees from leaders in Web3, immersive computing, and technology standards groups. Presenting partners include the Metaverse Standards Forum, the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group, and the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3), all organizations fostering interoperability.
“We are at a moment in time when developers, creatives, and producers can finally design the seamless and persistent experiences we’ve dreamed about,” said Jamil Moledina, Vice President of Games Partnerships and Media at Lamina1. “The Open Metaverse Conference will serve as the big tent for everyone who’s thinking about creating never-before-possible experiences that allow creators and consumers to enter unique virtual worlds on a level playing field.”
“OMA3 is pleased to collaborate with Lamina1 and the Open Metaverse Conference in promoting interoperability,” said Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands. “OMA3 looks forward to developing talk tracks to encourage the creation of a more open and immersive internet.”
The conference will encourage interdisciplinary dialogue through debates, pitch sessions, roundtable discussions, and networking opportunities to help drive new ideas and connections.
“We felt a real sense of urgency to facilitate discussion with our colleagues and creators across the spectrum,” said Rebecca Barkin, President of Lamina1. “We know that the Open Metaverse will be built collaboratively and with a set of shared values, and we’re happy to provide this forum to address the needs of the community and to solve big problems together.”
For more information on the Open Metaverse Conference, visit www.openmetaverseconf.com.
About Open Metaverse Conference 
The Open Metaverse Conference (OMC) is an industry-first event presented by Lamina1 focused on bringing together the Metaverse and blockchain technology. The conference gathers key stakeholders spanning developers, creatives, producers, product owners, and executives to ask and address big questions around the development of a truly Open Metaverse that leverages open-source, collaborative principles and blockchain decentralization.
About Lamina1 
Lamina1 is a Layer1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse. The brainchild of legendary futurist Neal Stephenson (who first conceptualized the term “Metaverse” in his 1992 best-selling novel Snow Crash) and Peter Vessenes, a foundational leader in the crypto space from the early days of Bitcoin – Lamina1 is on a mission to deliver the blockchain technology, interoperating tools, and decentralized services that will establish it as the preferred destination for creators building a more immersive Internet. It is the first provably carbon-negative blockchain in the world.
K.C. Maas
Wachsman
kc.maas@wachsman.com
K.C. Maas
Wachsman
kc.maas@wachsman.com

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Facebook Founder, Zuckerberg Drops Out Of 10 Richest Men After Losing Half Of Fortunes – SaharaReporters.com

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According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
 
Meta chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg has lost his spot in the list as one of the 10 richest people in America.
According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
Zuck trails Walmart heir Jim Walton, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and other tech moguls such as ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. No one in America has lost as much money over the past year as Zuckerberg.
He has the cratering stock price of Meta (formerly Facebook) to thank for his exit from the top 10. Shares have plunged 57% since last year’s Forbes 400, which used stock prices from September 3, 2021. Tech stocks are generally in a slump with the market downturn, but Meta’s fall outpaces both the Nasdaq (-9.8%) and the S&P 500 (-13.5%), as well as Microsoft’s 14% decline, Google-parent Alphabet‘s 25% drop and Amazon’s 27% dive.
Investors are spooked by a privacy policy update from Apple last year that made it harder for tech companies to track users across apps, impacting Meta’s ad sales. Meta reported its first-ever quarterly revenue decline in July–a 1% drop, to $28.8 billion.
“Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, and now it just doesn’t have that data anymore,” says Mark Zgutowicz, an analyst at research and investment banking firm Benchmark.
“All those data signals went away, which basically means that advertisers are having trouble telling whether a campaign was successful or not.”
Compounding the problem for Meta, TikTok is luring away advertisers, along with lucrative Gen Z and millennial users. In February, Meta announced its first-ever quarterly loss of daily active users. A recent internal report showed that Meta’s TikTok clone, Instagram Reels, is struggling to compete, according to Wall Street Journal report.
Under normal circumstances, a slight dip in revenue might be manageable, but Meta is also investing heavily in virtual reality and the metaverse, which is dragging down operating profit. In 2021, the company’s metaverse division, Meta Reality Labs, lost $10 billion. While the metaverse is all Zuckerberg wants to talk about, investors are less enthusiastic so far. “It’s a long tail investment and, for now, it’s kind of a cash suck,” Zgutowicz says.
Zuckerberg first became a billionaire in 2008, just four years after founding Facebook. At 23, he was the youngest self-made billionaire at the time, debuting at No. 321 on The Forbes 400, worth $1.5 billion. By 2011, Zuckerberg’s net worth had increased nearly 12 fold to $17.5 billion.
This year isn’t the first time Zuckerberg’s net worth has taken a dive. After Facebook’s famously disappointing IPO in 2012, Zuckerberg fell from No. 14 to No. 36 on The Forbes 400. But it didn’t last long. The following year, Zuckerberg bounced back and, up until now, his fortune has continued to climb. Despite the litany of controversies and scandals plaguing the company, Facebook’s ad machine had reliably churned out enough money to impress investors, sending Zuckerberg’s net worth soaring to $134.5 billion last year, his highest net worth ever.
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek plotting a metaverse for Disney+ that will recreate their parks online – Daily Mail

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By Alex Oliveira For Dailymail.Com
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Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park.
CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow ‘the 90 percent of people that will never ever be able to get to a Disney park,’ to experience it in virtual reality.
‘We call it next-gen storytelling’ Chapek said in an interview with Deadline, noting that he didn’t like use the phrase metaverse ‘because it has a lot of hair on it.’
But regardless of whatever Chapek prefers to call the planned platform, many have responded by calling the move out of touch with Disney’s fanbase, and argued that if the parks stopped hiking prices more people would be able to visit.  
The move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger, and keep afloat amid controversies ranging from the park’s rising prices, to Disney’s stance on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill. 
Just last week, Chapek broke a months-long silence on an apology he issued in an attempt to quell Disney staff who were outraged by his failure to speak out against the controversial bill last spring, saying he chose to remain mum on the matter because he didn’t want to get Disney caught in a ‘political subterfuge.’ 
Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow people to experience park rides in virtual reality
Disney’s metaverse move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger
Chapek characterized the Disney metaverse as a way to experience the theme parks for the multitudes of people who are unable to actually make the trip in person.
‘We wish every person would have the opportunity to come to our parks, but we realize that’s not a reality for some people,’ he told Deadline, ‘we have before us an opportunity to turn what was a movie-service platform to an experiential platform and give them the ability to ride Haunted Mansion from a virtual standpoint.’
He said metaverse users would have an experience beyond what regular parkgoers have, and be able to step out of the ride-cars to explore sets and interact with characters. 
‘Maybe we’ll give them the opportunity what every single person in the park wants to do, and unfortunately too many of them do it, just to get off the attraction. See how it works, see how those ghost dancers move,’ he said. 

But many responded to the news by saying if Disney would just stop raising its prices, more of those 90 percent of people who cannot visit the parks would be able to.
‘Damn Disney. Just say it direct like that,’ wrote tech critic Juan Carlos Bagnell on Twitter, ‘90% of the HUMAN POPULATION is too poor to visit our parks, but hopefully some are less-poor-enough to own VR goggles and ride our rides in a metaverse clone…’
Commenters on the Deadline interview were equally unimpressed, with one saying ‘The reason 90% of people may not be able to experience the parks is because you keep hiking the cost of GOING to the parks beyond what most people can actually afford, Bob.’
‘Costs are up at the parks. Moral appears to be down. Iger had imagination and could adapt,’ said another.

Disney park prices have skyrocketed since Chapek was fully given charge at Disney in 2022. At California parks, ticket prices jumped 6 percent to $164 for single-park passes, while the price of getting into more than one park over the course of a day rose 9 percent to $319.
At the Florida parks the price to get into the park after 2pm rose to $169, while before 2pm fans were asked to fork over $194. Those prices could also rise based on an increased demand on any day.
‘If you’re the kind of person that budgets or saves for vacations, Disney Parks aren’t for you any longer,’ wrote a fed-up customer on Reddit, ‘That’s a Premium Physical Experience, and there’s plenty of national and international wealthy families to afford going indefinitely.’
And in August, as inflation scorched the US economy, Chapek warned those prices could continue to rise.
‘It’s all up to the consumer,’ he said, according to The New York Post, ‘If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly.’
Disney’s metaverse would allow people to experience park rides like the Haunted Mansion without ever setting foot in Disney World
Chapek noted the virtual reality experience could go beyond simply sitting in the car and experiencing the ride the way park-goers do, but would allow people to step off of the tracks and explore the ride sets up close
Chapek has hardly been the happiest CEO on Earth since he took the reins at Disney.
After beginning his tenure in February, 2020, he was thrust immediately into the chaos of navigating Disney through the perils of the pandemic, which saw the media company’s primary revenue streams – theme park revenue and movie theater tickets – vanish like a pair of glass slippers at midnight.
To help steady the ship, Iger – much to Chapek’s ire, reportedly – was kept on in a leadership position through 2021.
But as soon as Chapek was given full control in 2022 his price hikes had customers raising eyebrows about whether he was up to the same scratch as the visionary Iger.
Those doubts were doubled-down on by Disney staff after Chapek decided to remain quiet on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, a law which barred schools from discussing sexuality or gender with children between kindergarten and third grade.
Many Disney employees viewed the law as homophobic and an affront to the inclusive values of Disney, and publicly voiced their outrage that Chapek did not speak out against it.
Chapek said the metaverse would also work in conjunction with real-world visits to Disney theme parks
Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park
He later apologized to staff, publicly decried the bill, and announced Disney had paused all its political donations within Florida.
Last week, Chapek addressed that apology for the first time since he issued it, saying he had struggled to balance the needs and beliefs of every one of his employees and customers.
‘What we try to do is be everything to everybody,’ Chapek told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview, ‘That tends to be very difficult because we’re The Walt Disney Company.’
‘We certainly don’t want to get caught up in any political subterfuge, but at the same time we also realize that we want to represent a brighter tomorrow for families of all types, regardless of how they define themselves,’ he said.

Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
Part of the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday & Metro Media Group

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