Defined by Facebook as, “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with people who aren’t in the same physical space as you,” the so called metaverse has attracted plenty of attention in recent months.
Involving a broad array of technologies, including augmented reality, blockchain, 5G and artificial intelligence, the concept of a metaverse expands on an almost daily basis. As more and more new people inhabit these virtual worlds, verifying the identity of virtual alter-egos will become essential.
Without an identity solution tailored to the next-generation requirements of the metaverse, it will be impossible to ensure avatars are truly who they say they are. For major businesses, celebrities and businesspeople, impersonators can be highly damaging to their brands and open the door to scammers.
The metaverse involves a heightened level of online engagement. Creating an environment where people can interact safely, securely and privately, relies on the creation of cryptographic, digital credentials.
There is a growing interest in the application of blockchain based identity solutions in the virtual world. For example, in December PhotoChromic announced the launch of a able to store identity as a non-fungible token (NFT). The idea is that government issued IDs could be stored as NFTs, enabling users to validate their identity through their digital assets.
As Big Tech firms like Facebook and Google continue to dominate the digital space, self-sovereign identity solutions (SSI), could offer users a way to take control of their data. With an SSI, individuals manage a portable digital identity, and manage how, and where this identity is shared.
No matter which online space an individual is in, or what their current avatar looks like, others need to be able to trust their identity. This doesn’t necessarily mean disclosing their real-world identity, but proving their online persona is connected to a real person.
It also means ensuring individuals are only granted access to the spaces and assets that they have a right to access. As virtual real estate and NFT art becoming increasingly valuable in the metaverse, these digital assets become a target for fraudsters and cybercriminals.
Elsewhere, parents of young children who play in the metaverse will want reassurances that other users are of a similar age and that the experiences are age appropriate. Digital identity technology will have a key role to play here. Estonian startup Veriff for example, launched an identity verification solution that works to protect underage users from accessing unsuitable content, through a mix of ID verification software, face matching and cross-linking services.
While the metaverse is only at a relatively early stage of development, platforms like Twitter have already started implementing a process for users to verify ownership of NFT profile pictures. By connecting with online marketplace OpenSea, Twitter can establish true ownership.
Of course, human error and scamming can still threaten security. Almost $2.2 million worth of Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) and Mutant Ape Yacht Club (MAYC) NFTs were stolen from their owner after he clicked on a scam link. In a fully developed metaverse, cyber criminals could attempt to use these stolen NFTs and pretend to be the owner.
The internet has evolved into a space where identity is siloed and data is wielded as currency. Tim Berners Lee – inventor of the world wide web and founder of decentralised data and identity platform Inrupt – wrote, “for all the good we’ve achieved, the web has evolved into an engine of inequity and division.”
As the powerful possibilities of the virtual world continue to unfold, it’s clear that a tangible link to the real world will be vital to security. For the metaverse to fulfil its immense potential, without threatening the safety and control of its users, it needs to be built with digital identity in mind.
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