19 Sep 2023
by Harvey Lewis , Laura Henchoz, Mira Pijselman

Building trust in the metaverse

Guest blog by Harvey Lewis, Mira Pijselman and Laura Henchoz at Earnst & Young. Part of techUK's #SuperchargeUKTech Week 2023.

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Challenges remain in encouraging adoption

The metaverse is a term that describes a shared virtual space where people can interact, learn, work and play in immersive and realistic ways. It merges various technologies, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.

According to the EY Trusted Metaverse Survey, 47% of executives say their organisations are already investing or will soon be active in the metaverse. Interest in the metaverse is highest in the real estate, hospitality, construction, financial services and automotive sectors, where more than 50% of senior executives say their organisation’s leadership is interested in taking advantage of the metaverse. In contrast, interest – but not necessarily opportunity – is lowest in utilities and the public sector.

If the technology continues to evolve and meet the potential suggested by many commentators, it could offer unprecedented opportunities for governments, businesses and consumers alike. However, despite initial waves of enthusiasm, most executives responding to the survey believe that the metaverse is still years away from creating genuine market disruption, and that challenges remain in encouraging adoption, as well as building and maintaining customer trust.

So, what steps can organisations take to build trust and adoption in the metaverse? How can they overcome potential issues of bias, discrimination, and explainability arising from the technology? And how can they mitigate concerns around privacy and cybersecurity? In this article, we present two straightforward actions.

Step 1: Understand and address ethical risks

A survey conducted by EY teams suggests that 62% of early metaverse movers identify its potential to provide a competitive advantage. But these senior executives also recognise that business interests must be balanced with commitments to address key security, inclusivity, accessibility, ethical and sustainability concerns.

For example, one of the main features of the metaverse is its use of AI to create and enhance virtual experiences. AI can enable personalisation, recommendation, simulation and automation in the metaverse, but it can also introduce bias, discrimination and opacity in decision-making processes. To address these issues, businesses need to adopt responsible AI practices that ensure fairness, accountability, transparency and ethics in their metaverse applications.

Over a third (37%) of executives say there is a risk that these ethical considerations could be overlooked as companies compete to build dominant positions in the metaverse. And 39% of survey respondents say there is a risk that business interests will trump user rights like accessibility, diversity and inclusion.

Senior leaders should ensure that ethicists and social scientists have a voice in the design, development and operation of their organisation’s metaverse applications and experiences. Without focused support from specialists outside the realm of technology, many companies may fall short in their efforts to create positive digital experiences that promote mainstream adoption, regardless of their technological sophistication.

Step 2: Tackle privacy concerns in virtual environments

Another key feature of the metaverse is the interconnection and interoperability of different virtual worlds and platforms. This can enable seamless and diverse virtual experiences for users, but it can also expose them to risks associated with the collection and use of large amounts of personal data.

Data is essential for creating rich and engaging virtual experiences, but it also raises privacy concerns and risks for users. For example, data breaches may reveal sensitive or intimate information about users’ identities, preferences, behaviours, or emotions, which may be exploited or misused by malicious actors or third parties. In addition, fraudsters may use the relative anonymity of virtual worlds to deceive or manipulate users into revealing their personal or financial information or transferring their virtual currency or goods. Scammers may also create fake or misleading virtual content or offers to lure users into traps or schemes.

Concerns from customers about cyber-vulnerabilities and data privacy in the metaverse ranked highest in the survey conducted by EY teams. Executives’ concerns about their own corporate cybersecurity ranked joint fourth-highest. Unless these concerns are addressed, it will be difficult for organisations to foster trust and encourage adoption of metaverse applications, which has consequences for business investment.

Many early movers already have experience of enabling great digital experiences, though. For example, they implement privacy-by-design principles and inform users about what data is collected and how it is used, and they obtain consent; they adhere to essential user rights and preferences; they comply with data protection principles by collecting only the minimum amount of data needed to provide the experience. They also implement good-practice cybersecurity to protect data from unauthorised access or disclosure.

To strengthen trust, senior leaders can adapt and extend their current governance approaches, rather than reinventing the wheel. In addition, when innovating around metaverse technologies, it’s also important for organisations to take a fresh look at relationships with regulators, industry bodies and NGOs to learn from and influence the standards for operating in the metaverse.

Unlock new opportunities for growth

The metaverse is an exciting and promising frontier for businesses and consumers, which is poised to revolutionise the way we interact with our physical and virtual worlds. Though many executives remain cautious about its potential, early adopters are forging ahead. However, to create truly immersive and engaging experiences, organisations must focus on building and maintaining customer trust. This means not only acting on safety and security but also on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusivity. By addressing these concerns, organisations can unlock new opportunities for growth, innovation, and positive societal impact.

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Harvey Lewis

Harvey Lewis

Partner, Ernst & Young

Laura Henchoz

Laura Henchoz

Client Technology Markets Leader, Ernst & Young

Mira Pijselman

Mira Pijselman

Senior Consultant