Facebook said Thursday at its Facebook Connect event that it’ll rebrand itself as “Meta” to emphasize its newfound obsession with the metaverse—a digital space for work and play that may be accessed using mixed-reality glasses and other devices.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity as an iconic social networking brand,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “Right now our brand is so tightly linked to one product.”
“Over time I want us to be seen as a metaverse company,” the CEO said.
The company set the stage for this move earlier this week by saying it would begin announcing earnings as two separate divisions—one for all its existing apps, and one for all its efforts to build foundational technologies for the metaverse.
Zuckerberg said the tech industry’s main focus has been on the smartphone, and innovation has been too tightly controlled. Presumably, he’s referring to gatekeepers like Apple and Google that run the app stores. “Our devices are still designed around apps, not people,” he said.
“The metaverse gives us the opportunity to change that,” he said.
Michael Abrash, who leads Facebook’s research on the metaverse, says that a dozen technological breakthroughs will need to happen before his company can finally build a set of AR glasses that will allow them to spend extended periods of time in the metaverse. (Abrash gave Fast Company an early look at its work on AR glasses in September 2020.)
And yet Facebook is talking a lot about the metaverse concept today. The company began talking about its metaverse ambitions during a year when it faces increasing scrutiny for circulating and even amplifying misinformation and divisive hyperpartisan content. It has a long history of failing to protect the privacy of its users’ personal information. It has repeatedly proven that it values rapid user growth over protecting the well-being of existing users, most recently in internal documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen.
This has earned the company a reputation for untrustworthiness, both in the public and among lawmakers. In the metaverse, users may be even more vulnerable to targeted misinformation and privacy abuses. The technology that will be used to access the metaverse will be capable of collecting far more data on the habits, preferences, and contacts of users. The tech company that guides one through the metaverse should, presumably, be worthy of the users’ trust. Facebook may be rebranding itself now to give itself time to build that trust.