Don't Trust Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse With Your Privacy, ProtonMail CEO Warns

  • Andy Yen calls metaverse "insidious in many ways"
  • Meta is "building a new infrastructure where they control everything"
  • "I don't believe that's a company we should trust with power like that"

Mark Zuckerberg's pledges on privacy relating to his envisioned "metaverse" are empty unless his company's business model changes, according to Andy Yen, CEO and founder of encrypted email service ProtonMail.

Zuckerberg recently laid out his metaverse vision, calling it the "next evolution of social connection" in the coming years on which his company—now called Meta—intends to focus its attention.

In an open letter, expanding upon the name change from Facebook, Zuckerberg wrote: "Privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one."

He also discussed privacy with Nick Clegg, Meta's vice president for global affairs and communications, in an accompanying video, and spoke of designing for "privacy, safety and inclusion, before the products even exist."

But Yen, who launched ProtonMail in 2014 in response to concerns about privacy and civil liberties, was skeptical about the rhetoric coming out of Zuckerberg's Meta, the new parent company of Facebook.

"Facebook talks about privacy because it's a PR issue for them," Yen told Newsweek at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

"At the end of the day, their business model revolves on taking your data and monetizing it. So there is fundamentally always going to be a conflict between what they say and what they actually have to do to make money.

"There's no way to ever get around their conflict unless they change their business model, and they're not going to do that."

On Meta's metaverse, Yen noted there are "tons of articles mocking it" and that he thinks it is "worthy of mockery in some aspects."

"But it's also insidious in many ways. What is Facebook actually doing? What is the purpose? Facebook's issue today is they don't control their destiny," Yen said.

"They depend on other platforms, other devices to reach their customers, whether it's iPhone, the Chrome browser, Google Search, whatever it may be.

"What they're doing with the metaverse is really they're building a new infrastructure where they control everything. They control the device, they have the VR headsets, you're now in their world, on their devices, on their platform."

Yen continued: "Given Facebook's track record, given what we've seen from the recent whistleblower, given what we've learned about the way that they've behaved, not just 10 years ago, when Mark Zuckerberg was still young as he calls it, but even right up to the current moment, I don't believe that's a company we should trust with power like that.

"There is plenty of evidence to show that they have not really changed or evolved as a business, despite what the rhetoric might lead you to believe. "

Facebook is under fire due to the allegations by whistleblower Frances Haugen, who has criticized the approach to hate speech on the platform, accusing the company of prioritizing its bottom line over reducing the harm it does to people.

Clegg, who spoke to Web Summit via video link, rejected the notion that hate speech is profitable for Facebook or that they are not giving fighting it sufficient attention and resources.

Facebook has long faced privacy concerns, with recent questions raised surrounding its facial recognition system. Data leaks have also posed concerns.

Newsweek has contacted Meta, via the press email for Facebook, for comment.

zuckerberg in new york city
Mark Zuckerberg speaks about the new Facebook News feature at the Paley Center For Media on October 25, 2019 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images