In December last year, a 43-year-old woman donned her Oculus headset to enter ‘Horizon Worlds’, a virtual social media platform created by Meta, formerly known as Facebook. She was expecting to have some fun but it turned out to be a nightmare.
“Within 60 seconds of joining – I was verbally and sexually harassed – 3–4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang raped my avatar and took photos,” she later wrote in a Medium post. “As I tried to get away they yelled – ‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it’ and ‘go rub yourself off to the photo’.”
Coined first by science-fiction novelist Neal Stephenson in the book ‘Snow Crash’ in 1992, the metaverse is a “3D virtual worlds focused on social connection”. People can access these virtual worlds with the help of a virtual or an augmented reality headset and interact with fellow users. In other words, people can ‘live’ as their own avatar in a virtual world, interact with others who similarly ‘live’ there.
The ‘virtual sexual harassment’ of the woman’s ‘avatar’ shows the dark side of the metaverse which tech giants are betting as the future of internet. While there is one part of the metaverse glowing with news reports such as the ‘first metaverse wedding’ by a Tamil Nadu couple, the other side, however, shows a rising number of cybercrimes.
In 2020, India reported an 11 per cent jump in cybercrime as per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data. The report ‘Crime in India 2020’ said about 50,035 cases were registered in that year under cybercrimes while the cases in 2019 were at 44,735.
Removing the ‘viruses’
Scams revolving around ‘infrastructures’ of the metaverse – cryptocurrencies and non-fungible token (NFT) – too are on the rise. As tech giants are starting to invest in the metaverse, the question experts are asking is if it will be safe. So how can that be achieved?
Vasundhara Shankar of Verum Legal, an expert on cyberlaw, says, “There is a looming and increased possibility of virtual harassment, identity theft and misrepresentation, breach of privacy, overwhelming and misleading advertisements, skewed and need for altered…