Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse

The metaverse is sort of the Internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. (File/AFP)
The metaverse is sort of the Internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 November 2021

Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse

The metaverse is sort of the Internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. (File/AFP)
  • Haugen’s documents have exposed an internal crisis at the social media giant, which provides free services to 3 billion people

BRUSSELS: Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned Tuesday that the “metaverse,” the all-encompassing virtual reality world promised by the social media giant, 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 because of the intense pressure it is facing after she revealed deep-seated problems at the company and energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on big tech companies.
“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 experts drawing up rules for social media companies.
Meta, the new name for the parent company of Facebook, denied it was trying to divert 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 — sort of the Internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can go inside of — instead of just looking at on a screen — and refocused Facebook’s business model on it, including renaming the company 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 metaverse creates a whole new set of dangers, Haugen said. In “Snow Crash,” the 1992 the 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.
She 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 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.
“So given that I see this pattern of choices where he prioritizes growth and expansion over making sure what he has is good, I think that is a failure of leadership,” she said.
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 wellbeing 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 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 US
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.


Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform

Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform
Updated 23 May 2022

Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform

Sky News Arabia launches new Arabic-language digital platform
  • SNABusiness.com will cover business and economic news and analysis

ABU DHABI: Sky News Arabia has launched a new Arabic-language digital platform SNABusiness.com, featuring breaking news, economic analysis and in-depth reporting.

The launch of the platform is in response to “consumer demand for objective and actionable economic intelligence and insights,” according to a company statement.

“The launch of SNAbusiness.com reflects Sky News Arabia’s commitment to provide our audiences with the economic news and analysis they need,” said Youssef Tsouri, head of news at Sky News Arabia.

He added: “We are witnessing an increasing demand for business news at a time when the whole world is in greater need of this genre of information.”

The digital publication will cover all topics relating to business and economy across industries including financial technology, energy and oil, tourism, real estate, agriculture and other sectors.

The website’s content will include diverse content types including reports, videos and exclusive interviews. SNABusiness.com aims to present complex data in an easy-to-understand manner through charts, infographics and digital videos.

Tsouri said: “Our aim is to provide fast and accurate reporting to our viewers and deliver our brand promise to be ‘your reliable source of economic information’.”


Disneyland’s new advert calls Arab audiences to Paris this summer

Disneyland’s new advert calls Arab audiences to Paris this summer
Updated 23 May 2022

Disneyland’s new advert calls Arab audiences to Paris this summer

Disneyland’s new advert calls Arab audiences to Paris this summer

DUBAI: Leading entertainment resort Disneyland Paris has released its first advert specifically for Arab audiences featuring Dubai-based influencer Sara Karrit.

Airing in the UAE and KSA, the advert is produced by Dubai-based local agency ArabyAds, and features Karrit sharing her dream of visiting Disneyland with her son on the occasion of the destination’s 30th anniversary.

Samira Tachfint, sales and marketing director at Disneyland Paris told Arab News: “Arab audiences, especially those based in the GCC, have always been a major part of our international audience base.

“There is a strong appetite among Emirati/GCC families for Disney destinations and at Disneyland Paris they have access to the ultimate magical experience just 6 hours away by air.”

A large number of Arab families visit every year, particularly during summer, said Tachfint. “Our bespoke luxury offerings and our ever-evolving entertainment encourage repeat visits.”

Disneyland Paris’ 30th-anniversary celebrations include Premier Access Ultimate, a digital service being launched this summer that will provide guests with one-time expedited access to 12 of the most popular attractions, in addition to new shows and experiences.

Tachfint said: “As we mark our 30th anniversary, we produced this ad to celebrate the connection we have forged with our GCC visitors over the past three decades. The ad, produced completely in the GCC and starring local talent, showcases how the magic of Disneyland Paris is alive for different generations and genders.”

Disneyland Paris is the most visited tourist destination in Europe — ahead of the Louvre and Eiffel Tower combined — with more than 16 million annual visitors, according to the company.


Netflix launches new collection and features on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Netflix launches new collection and features on Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Updated 23 May 2022

Netflix launches new collection and features on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Netflix launches new collection and features on Global Accessibility Awareness Day
  • “Celebrating Disability with Dimension” collection features 50+ shows and films about people with disabilities

DUBAI: Netflix is marking Global Accessibility Awareness Day (May 19) by launching a new collection, “Celebrating Disability with Dimension” that features over 50 shows and movies highlighting characters and stories about people living with disabilities.

The collection includes shows such as “Raising Dion,” “Special,” and “Atypical” and movies that include “The Fundamentals of Caring” and “Feel the Beat.”

“How we access stories has changed a lot,” said Heather Dowdy, Netflix’s director of product accessibility, in a blog post.

“Whether it’s video conference calls, texting, or the flashing doorbell, nowadays technology can build bridges to access for many people living with disabilities.”

Netflix is therefore expanding its language availability of Audio Descriptions (AD) and Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH). These features will be made available across more of the streaming giant’s catalog in languages including Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

“For decades, your access to entertainment was determined by where you lived and what language you spoke, meaning that until recently people who needed AD or SDH could only enjoy a story if it was made in their local language,” said Dowdy.

“By increasing our SDH and AD language availability to over 20 languages, we hope to give all of our members the ability to see their lives reflected on screen, no matter where you’re from, what language you speak, or what abilities you have.”

Netflix will also display badges for shows and films that have AD and SDH on web and iOS, as well as host accessibility screenings in select countries around the world.

“With over 1 billion people living with disabilities globally, the opportunity to tell more inclusive stories and bond within our communities over storytelling is tremendous,” said Dowdy.


Saudi Arabia’s largest theater chain launches Muvi Studios

Saudi Arabia’s largest theater chain launches Muvi Studios
Updated 23 May 2022

Saudi Arabia’s largest theater chain launches Muvi Studios

Saudi Arabia’s largest theater chain launches Muvi Studios

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s leading theater operator Muvi Cinemas launched Muvi Studios on Monday, and appointed Saudi film industry pioneer Faisal Baltyuor as its CEO.

Muvi Studios will focus on developing both Saudi and Egyptian films for the Saudi public, concentrating on films for the big screen. 

Muvi Cinema announced this step as part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build a stronger film industry since theaters reopened in 2018.

“I have been collaborating with Muvi Cinemas in various ways since it launched three years ago,” Baltyuor said. “Its growth in Saudi Arabia has been extraordinary. It has captured the imagination of the nation with 46 percent box office market share tapping into the pent-up demand for a globally inspired theater experience, complemented by local execution.

“Now, through the creation of Muvi Studios, we are intent on producing world class Arabic movies to entertain audiences in the Middle East and around the world,” he added.

“At the same time, this is another exciting development for the rapidly expanding Saudi film production sector, as the country evolves rapidly into a vibrant society.”

Formerly CEO of the Saudi Film Council, Baltyour also previously led an initiative with the Ministry of Culture to develop the Saudi film industry before founding the largest specialized Saudi film distribution company, CineWaves Film, in 2020. 

He is a board member of Manga Productions and holds several other roles in the Saudi film industry.

“The Middle East region, and especially Saudi Arabia, is witnessing a renaissance of its movie industry and we are excited to have Faisal onboard to lead the company into this new venture to develop Saudi and regional film content to the big screen,” Muvi Cinemas’ chief executive, Adon Quinn, said.  

“The cash we’re investing in Muvi Studios will be used to produce a slate of top-quality Arabic movies and we aim to release a minimum of three films within the next 12 months.”

Since its launch in February 2019, Muvi Cinemas has expanded to 22 locations across the Kingdom, operating 205 screens featuring the latest movie experiences, including Samsung Onyx, 4DX, ScreenX, Dolby Cinema and Xperience powered by CGS technology.


WEF unveils Global Collaboration Village to improve public-private cooperation

WEF unveils Global Collaboration Village to improve public-private cooperation
Updated 23 May 2022

WEF unveils Global Collaboration Village to improve public-private cooperation

WEF unveils Global Collaboration Village to improve public-private cooperation

DAVOS: An initiative to improve the functionality of the metaverse and increase public engagement within it was announced at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Monday.

The Global Collaboration Village, which was launched in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft, will improve public-private cooperation, a WEF statement said.

The initiative will provide immersive spaces where stakeholders can convene, create and take action on critical global challenges, it added.

“The metaverse will influence the way people, governments, companies and society at large think, work, interact and communicate for the purpose of collectively addressing issues on the global agenda,” said Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of WEF. 

“The Global Collaboration Village will be an extension of the World Economic Forum’s public private platforms and in-person meetings and will provide a more open, more sustained and more comprehensive process for coming together,” he added.

Julie Sweet, Chairwoman and CEO of Accenture, said: “While the metaverse is only in its early days, it already holds great promise, not only for redefining how organizations work and interact but also for fostering effective public-private partnerships.”

According to the statement, WEF wants to be a pioneer within the metaverse space and bring together others to co-create within it.