INTERVIEW: Meta regional VP says company committed to ‘open’ discussion about technology

Ahmed Saeed Tantawi , Saturday 11 Dec 2021

At the end of last October, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the change of the company's name to "Meta", as well as the entry into a new era called "Metaverse." Ahram Online spoke to Derya Matrash, vice president of Meta for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, asking her questions about the virtual world. How can someone participate in it? How are accounts secured in the virtual world? What is the future of the other social networks that are part of Meta?

Derya Matrash
A file photo of Derya Matrash, Vice President of Meta for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey

Ahram Online: What does Metaverse mean?

Derya Matrash: The “metaverse” is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who are not in the same physical space as you. You will be able to hang out with friends, work, play, learn, shop, create and more. It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it is about making the time you do spend online more meaningful. 

The metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone. Just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not. And it will not be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realised in the next 10-15 years.

AO: Will Facebook change its name? Or will it be a name for the parent company similar to Google's Alphabet? 

DM: No. The app is still going to be called Facebook. Meta brings together all of our apps and technologies under one new company brand. We are still going to be putting the name Meta across all of our apps and products, linking them together for people. 

We chose Meta because it can mean “beyond,” which captures our commitment to building social technologies that take us beyond what digital connection makes possible today. We also chose it because of the obvious connection to metaverse - signalling our commitment to helping bring this vision to life.

AO: How will you handle privacy in the virtual world, mainly of posts and videos?

DM: Meta is neither going to build, own, nor run the metaverse on its own. This isn’t going to be a Meta product. The metaverse will exist whether Meta is there or not.

However, one key thing will remain of utmost importance and that is the privacy, safety and wellbeing of our users. In the past, the speed with which new technologies have emerged has sometimes left policymakers and regulators playing catch-up. We don’t want this to happen this time around. A core principle is going to be "don’t surprise people." That's why we are having this conversation out in the open, way in advance of all these technologies being launched.

We will also be collaborating at every stage — with other companies, developers, experts and policymakers. It will be a crucial part of how we navigate future challenges. We have already launched a two-year $50 million investment in programs and external research, collaborating with industry partners, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits and academic institutions to get input as we build these technologies responsibly. This is alongside being a founding member of the XR Association (XRA), which is committed to help build responsible XR, which includes virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed-reality, and future immersive technology.

Finally, while we will need to continue to get better at anticipating risks, we won’t be able to see around every corner. That’s why the principles of privacy, safety and security need to be built in from the start. If we have the principles right, then as a society we will be better at tackling new challenges with these technologies as they arise.

AO: Some countries have poor internet speed. What are the speed limits for the new Metaverse? Does it need smartphones with certain specifications?

DM: Our vision is for the metaverse to reach a billion people in the next decade, but for that to happen, access to hardware has to improve and connectivity across the world has to increase.

This is why we are improving connectivity across the world through cutting-edge technologies. Since 2013, our efforts have helped more than 300 million people benefit from better infrastructure, network analytics or access technologies, and our continued work in this area could help provide connectivity for up to 3 billion people.

We’re proud to have reached this milestone — but the work doesn’t stop there. As people look for more immersive experiences in new virtual spaces like the metaverse, we need to increase access to more reliable and affordable internet for everyone. We believe this work is fundamental for creating greater equity where everyone can benefit from the economic, educational and social benefits of a digitally connected world.

One area we’ve been looking at is subsea cables, which form the backbone of the internet and carry 99% of the world's data traffic. Alongside key partners, we build cables that are designed with an open, flexible architecture, making it easier to upgrade the cable equipment to meet future capacity needs. [The proposed 2Africa subsea cable] is a perfect example of our innovative partnership model where everyone benefits through developing scale infrastructure and shared technology expertise that leads the industry in routes, capacity and flexibility.

2Africa will significantly increase connectivity within Africa and better connect Africa to the rest of the world, as it will ultimately interconnect 33 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, including Egypt.

Expected to launch in 2023, 2Africa will provide connectivity to an additional 1.8 billion people, totalling 3 billion people, or about 36 percent of the global population.

AO: What is meant by investing $50 million to build the Metaverse in a responsible manner?

DM: Building the Metaverse is a long process. But as a starting point, we have announced the XR Programs and Research Fund - a two-year, $50 million investment in programs and external research to help us in this effort. Through this fund, we will collaborate with industry partners, civil rights groups, governments, nonprofits, and academic institutions to determine how to build these technologies in an ethical and responsible way. As a part of this effort, we are also facilitating independent external research with institutions across the globe.

AO: Do you accept suggestions from users/ordinary people regarding the new system?

DM: Building the metaverse will be more like how the internet came about than how anyone app was launched. We will be collaborating at every stage — with other companies, developers, experts and policymakers.

As always, we appreciate all feedback we receive and thank each person who takes the time to send it. Although we can't respond to everyone who submits a suggestion, we review many of the ideas that people send to us and use them to improve the Meta experience for everyone.

AO: Generally, many readers have asked about ways to protect their accounts from being hacked. How can a hacked Facebook account be recovered?

DM: If someone believes their account has been hacked or taken over, they should visit secure their account. We'll ask them to change their password and review recent login activity.

An account may have been hacked if someone notices that:

● Their email address or password has changed.

● Their name or birthday has changed.

● Friend requests have been sent to people they don't know.

● Messages have been sent that they didn't write.

● Posts have been made that they didn't create.

Users can also review these tools and tips to help keep their account safe and may want to learn how to protect themselves against malicious software that could compromise their account.

Even in cases where the email address associated with your Facebook account has changed this can be reversed. When an email address is changed, we send a message to the previous email account with a special link. This link, when clicked, reverses the email address change and secures the account.

It is always good for everyone to make sure that their settings align with what they want to be sharing publicly. In this case, updating the “How People Find and Contact You” control could be helpful. We also recommend people do regular privacy checkups to make sure that their settings are in the right place, including who can see certain information on their profile and enabling two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication is a security feature that helps protect your Facebook account in addition to your password. If you set up two-factor authentication, you'll be asked to enter a special login code or confirm your login attempt each time someone tries accessing Facebook from a browser or mobile device we do not recognize. You can also get alerts when someone tries logging in from a browser or mobile device we do not recognize.

AO: What if someone has my ID card or passport? Can they use it to pretend to be me?

DM: Accounts and Pages that impersonate other people go against our Community Standards and aren't allowed on Facebook. If you see an account that's pretending to be you, someone you know or a public figure (example: celebrity, politician), we encourage you to let us know. You can report potentially impersonating accounts to us even if you don't have a Facebook account.

AO: Many users want to authenticate their accounts, mainly journalists and media people. Can you offer this as a special feature for them?

DM: We look at a number of factors when evaluating Facebook Pages and profiles to determine whether they're in the public interest and meet our verification criteria.

In addition to following Facebook's Terms of Service and Community Standards, pages and profiles need to be:

● Authentic: Represent a real person, registered business, or entity.

● Unique: Be the only presence of this person or business. Only one page or profile per person or business may be verified with exceptions for language-specific pages and profiles. We don't verify general interest pages and profiles (e.g. puppy memes).

● Complete: Have an about section, page or profile photo and recent activity, including at least one post.

● Notable: Represent a well-known, often searched person, brand or entity. We review pages and profiles that are featured in multiple news sources and we don't consider paid or promotional content as sources for review.

If a page or profile doesn't meet the criteria for a verified badge there are other ways to let people know it's authentic. For example, they can link to it from an official website, Instagram profile or Twitter account.

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