Patents By Facebook Shows How It Plans To Profit From Metaverse

While the metaverse concept has been around for decades, and many describe its first, albeit quite basic, incarnation to be 2003’s Second Life, Facebook parent Meta is leading the push into the kind of VR-powered shared world that people associate with Ready Player One. And being Facebook, that means plenty of ads, some of which could utilize people’s biometric data such as eye-tracking and body movements.

Protocol reports that a series of patents was recently granted to Meta that may give us an idea of how the company could one day monetize the metaverse.

Hyper-targeted advertising and sponsored content are part of the business model.

Pupil movements, body poses, and nose scrunching are among the flickers of human expression that Meta wants to harvest in building its metaverse, according to an analysis of dozens of patents recently granted to Facebook’s parent company.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to spend US$10 billion a year over the next decade into the nebulous and much-hyped concept denoting an immersive virtual world filled with avatars. Rivals such as Apple and Microsoft are also pursuing similar aims that Big Tech executives describe as part of the next evolution of the internet.

The Financial Times has reviewed hundreds of applications to the US Patent and Trademark Office, many of which were granted this month. They reveal that Meta has patented numerous technologies that use users’ biometric data to power what they see and ensure that their digital avatars are animated realistically.

Protocol reports that a series of patents was recently granted to Meta that may give us an idea of how the company could one day monetize the metaverse.

But the patents also indicate how the Silicon Valley group intends to cash in on its virtual world, with hyper-targeted advertising and sponsored content that mirrors its existing US$85 billion-a-year, ad-based business model.

This includes plans for a “virtual store” where users can purchase digital goods or items that correspond to real-world products sponsored by brands.

“For us, the business model in the metaverse is commerce-led,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs told the FT during a recent interview. “Clearly ads play a part in that.”

The patents do not mean that Meta will definitely build the technology, but they offer the clearest indication yet of how the company aims to make its immersive world into a reality.

Some of the patents relate to eye and face-tracking technology, typically collected in a headset via tiny cameras or sensors, which may be used to enhance a user’s virtual or augmented reality experience. For example, a person will be shown brighter graphics where their gaze falls, or ensure their avatar mirrors what they are doing in real life.

One Meta patent, granted on January 4, lays out a system for tracking a user’s facial expressions through a headset that will then “adapt media content” based on those responses.

There is a “wearable magnetic sensor system” to be placed around a torso for “body pose tracking”. The patent includes sketches of a user wearing the device but appearing in virtual reality as a soldier complete with a sword and armor.

Another patent proposes an “avatar personalization engine” that can create three-dimensional avatars based on a user’s photos, using tools including a so-called skin replicator.

“Meta wants to be able to simulate you down to every skin pore, every hair fiber, and every micro-movement,” according to Noelle Martin, a legal reformer who has spent more than a year studying Meta’s human-monitoring ambitions with the University of Western Australia. ”

“The goal is to create 3D replicas of people, places, and things that are so hyper-realistic and tactile that they are indistinguishable from what’s real, and then to intermediary any range of services… in reality, they’re engaged in a global human-cloning program.”

The project has allowed the company, which in recent times has been stung by other scandals over moderation and privacy, to attract engineers from rivals such as Microsoft amid a fierce battle for talent between the world’s biggest technology companies.

Since changing its name from Facebook to Meta in late October in a corporate rebranding, the company’s share price has risen about five percent to US$329.21.

Critics remain skeptical of the vision, arguing that it is a distraction from recent scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen publicly accused the company of prioritizing hate over profit last year.

“What are they going to do with more data and how are they going to ensure it is secure?” asked Celia Rodent, a former Epic Games user experience director who now works as an independent consultant.

Some patents appear to be aimed at assisting Meta in its efforts to find new revenue streams, as it is concerned about the loss of interest among younger users in its core social networking products like Facebook.

Zuckerberg has indicated the company plans to keep the prices of its headsets low, but instead draw revenues in its metaverse from advertising, and by supporting sales of digital goods and services in its virtual world.

One patent explores how to present users with personalized advertising in augmented reality, based on age, gender, interest, and “how the users interact with a social media platform”, including their likes and comments.

Another aims to allow third parties to “sponsor the appearance of an object” in a virtual store that mimics a retail store’s layout using a bidding process similar to the company’s existing advertising auction process.

The patents indicate how Meta could offer ads in its immersive world that are even more personalized than what is possible within its existing web-based products.

Research shows that eye gaze direction and pupil activity may implicitly contain information about a user’s interests and emotional state, for example, if a user’s eyes linger over an image, this may indicate they like it.

In the metaverse, “you could do something similar in which you’re not selling eye-tracking data to advertisers, but you need to be unable to use data to determine whether people engage with an advertisement or not,” Clegg said.

“My nightmare scenario is that targeted advertising based on our involuntary biological reactions to stimuli will start appearing in the metaverse…most people don’t realize how valuable that could be,” according to Brittan Heller, a technology lawyer at Foley Hoag. There are currently no legal restrictions on that.”

While all this technology talk may be exciting for some, many people are still unsure about the metaverse as a whole. If anything, all this talk of ads makes it sound like the Internet is just as good as it already is, and does not make it sound any more beneficial.
Critics also still believe that the company’s recent rebranding is meant to distract from last year’s leaked documents which alleged that it is purely profit-driven, meaning it allowed misinformation and bigotry to spread on platforms like Facebook so long as it made money.


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