May 23 2022

OSINT and the Metaverse

NetWatch analyst Megan Depper takes a look at what the Metaverse might mean for OSINT investigations

There is no doubt that the invention of the internet changed the world as we know it. The inception of social media in the 2000’s and its permeation through society changed the face of the internet. Now Facebook, still the world’s largest social network, has launched a new attempt to change the way we all interact, and produce the next stage of social media, the internet, and perhaps society itself: the Metaverse.

Announced on the 29th October 2021 with Facebook changing the name of their holding company to ‘Meta’, the Metaverse’s stated goal is to give users a place to “play and connect in 3D”. The announcement excited many social media users at the time. However, Virtual Reality has been around since before the 2000’s, and virtual social worlds have long existed online in the form of multiple games and sites. So, whilst the announcement received a lot of publicity, the idea itself isn’t revolutionary. Indeed, Meta themselves note that the platform may be years or even a decade away from what they envision.

Nonetheless, could the possible introduction of this new phase of social media affect how OSINT investigators operate?

Since the launch of almost every social media platform, OSINT investigators have had to adapt, and this next development is unlikely to be an exception. The Metaverse remains a somewhat vague concept, yet by looking at Meta’s own expectations for the platform we are able make some predictions.

Just as the business social networking website LinkedIn pushed users to disclose more of their personal information online aside from simply socialising with close friends, the Metaverse may push this boundary even further, potentially creating ways for companies to conduct much of their work in the Metaverse itself.

Moreover, the Metaverse could also blur the lines between OSINT investigators and physical manned surveillance teams. For instance, an investigator could potentially follow the physical movements of a subject’s virtual avatar, and perhaps even track them to a virtual event such as a music concert or gaming tournament. This would allow investigators to assess the physical abilities of a subject, and movements online that mimic real-world movements would provide information into the individual behind the screen.

Of course, it is also possible that the Metaverse will push social media in the opposite direction. If Meta chooses to prioritise the sharing of posts and activities solely amongst groups of friends, it could move away from the public sharing of information. In 2019, following a number of scandals related to Facebook’s privacy policy and handling of user data, Mark Zuckerberg announced that he believed the “future is private”. This could provide a hint as to the eventual vision he has for the Metaverse. If so, far from creating a plethora of new, exciting opportunities, the Metaverse may present investigators with an array of challenges.

Ultimately, the Metaverse still primarily remains a nebulous ‘idea’, and here at NetWatch we will be watching any further developments with a keen eye.

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