Is the Metaverse More Than Just Talk?
Everyone seems to be talking about the metaverse – how it’s defined and still evolving into a standalone digital economy. But has there been any real progress as the metaverse positioning itself as the next iteration of the Internet? The short answer: not really.
Interestingly, the term metaverse was coined more than three decades ago in 1992 in the sci-fi book “Snow Crash,” authored by Neal Stephenson. The book described the metaverse as an all-encompassing digital world running parallel to the real world. While that seems to be what the goal is presently, what will materialize long-term is unknown. The term metaverse is definitely a buzzword right now, but so was the term internet years ago. After use cases multiplied, adoption rose and the internet skyrocketed into the force it is today.
Currently there are several digital spaces that make up the metaverse. Progress has been made on the business front, but it is still in the very early stages. It will be years before it is used regularly across industries because trust takes time to build. The thought of transacting business in an immersive, three-dimensional shared virtual space is intriguing, but also daunting. But that does not mean organizations should not be thinking about how they can use the metaverse. In fact, now is the optimal time for forward-thinking companies to consider potential use cases.
The metaverse sparked a lot of interest last year. Companies in the tech and gaming industries provided hefty investments to help build up the virtual space. Digital currencies and layered technologies are fueling this complex space. There are several immersive and social gaming options and concerts, such as Travis Scott, have even taken place in the metaverse during some of these gaming experiences.
Businesses in other industries have also started exploring options for transacting in the metaverse and some even opened up shop. This includes banks, retailers, and more. Marketing is a trending focus for organizations to promote their brand in a new space. For example, while retailers can make sales by offering outfits and accessories for avatars – brand awareness also spreads when these retailers have space in the metaverse. In the legal space, several law firms have opened up but lawyers are not really advising clients yet.
One common theme for all of these endeavors is that they are in the infancy stage. Business and legal leaders would be wise to pay attention to how this space transforms over the next decade.
Potential Use Cases
There will be several opportunities to leverage the metaverse for business in the future as this space evolves. Think of the endless possibilities. Colleagues and clients can put on headsets and be taken directly to a space where they can interact with a person living across the globe just as they were in person. The interactions go far beyond what many have been doing over video chat the past few years, as they are much more realistic. Users can even maintain anonymity through their digital avatar if needed for a sensitive manner.
Big tech, gaming, entertainment, marketing, and retail will likely continue to dominate the metaverse for now. However, potential use cases for business outside of these are within reach. This includes industry conferences, internal meetings, client consultations, contract negotiations, vendor interviews, document review, and more. Once privacy and data security controls are more certain, medical visits could even be a use case for healthcare organizations. It seemed impossible that doctor visits could occur remotely, but over the past few years this has become more common. Who’s to say healthcare will not also be provided in the metaverse?
While more of the legal industry is starting to prioritize innovation, many still remain hesitant to jump on new tech trends until the risks are realized. Some leading law firms have already dipped their toes in the metaverse, but getting the whole industry on board will likely take a lot longer. If and when this occurs, the use cases are numerous. This includes client consultations and meetings, internal collaboration, metaverse courtrooms, depositions, ALSP partnerships, and document review. Additionally, client usage of the metaverse will drive lawyer education and adoption. This presents opportunities for new practice areas, advising clients on safe metaverse usage, and more.
Now is the time to watch if any of these business and legal use cases materialize and how widespread they become. Will metaverse endeavors be limited to innovation pioneers or will adoption spread quickly? Will certain industries continue to dominate and build up this space for the foreseeable future? The timeline and adoption trends are unknown. Anything is possible at this point and time.
Many business and legal leaders will wait and see how metaverse risks are defined before making significant investment. The top three risk categories to consider are legal, cyber, and privacy.
From a legal standpoint, it is unclear which laws apply in the metaverse and how they will be interpreted. Will the metaverse need its own body of law or will current laws apply? Who has jurisdiction over a dispute? How will trademark disputes be handled? These are some key questions to tackle before transacting in the metaverse.
As with all new tech, there will undoubtedly be unique collection and review obstacles when data relevant to litigation or investigations resides in the metaverse. Preservation challenges will arise causing organizations to revamp their information governance programs to account for data storage in the metaverse. This will require an understanding of what data could be discoverable and how retention policies factor into protecting that data. Also anticipate collection obstacles that will require new workflows to obtain relevant data. Partnerships with providers that have the tech to collect difficult data will be key to remain compliant. Future court decision and regulatory opinions will be instructive on these issues.
As the metaverse expands, hackers will look for any opportunity to breach information. Cryptocurrency payments and unsecured systems will be prime targets. Consulting with a cyber attorney or expert before storing data or transacting in the metaverse will be crucial. Consider implementing security-by-design models and placing extra controls to keep data safe. Also pay attention to the inevitable breaches that will occur in this digital space, as they will shine light on deficiencies and gaps to consider before setting up shop in the metaverse.
An organization’s data privacy program will need to translate to metaverse interactions. However, it may be trickier to determine which laws apply. Best practice for now is to operate as if the strictest applicable law applies. It may also be more difficult to comply with privacy obligations such as the right to access or deletion, so for now it may be prudent to limit which data is stored in the metaverse.
The metaverse is forming and it is hard to predict whether it will integrate into everyday life like the internet did so many years ago. Right now, many view it as a risky place to conduct business. Until this is proven true or false and best practices arise, adoption will continue to be slow. It is prudent to keep tabs on what innovators and industry competitors are doing in this space, as this can mold future business strategies. Legal, cyber, and privacy analysis will play a huge role on setting parameters and realistic expectations for what data should be stored in the metaverse and how to best protect sensitive information.
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