Facebook is changing its name to Meta, reflecting the company’s push to build a digital avatar-filled virtual world known as the metaverse as it battles a deepening public relations crisis and growing regulatory scrutiny.
Speaking at Facebook Connect, the company’s annual virtual and augmented reality conference, on Thursday, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook was “an iconic social media brand but increasingly, it just doesn’t encompass everything that we do”.
He added: “From now on, we’re going to be metaverse first, not Facebook first.” While the company was changing its name to Meta, Zuckerberg said that the existing individual platforms and brands — Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram and Oculus — would not change.
Zuckerberg has ramped up investment in augmented and virtual reality as it competes with Apple and others to build the next-generation computing platform. In July he first outlined his vision to build a metaverse, which can be accessed through different devices, allowing users to shop, game and socialise.
The company said on Monday that from the fourth quarter of this year, it planned to break out results for its Facebook Reality Labs unit, which builds its AR, VR and metaverse products, from the rest of the business.
Facebook is facing a deluge of scrutiny after former-employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the company of deepening polarisation and relentlessly placing profits over the safety of its users.
Numerous news outlets, including the Financial Times, obtained redacted versions of thousands of documents that she provided to US regulators and Congress, which provide a glimpse into the company’s inner workings.
Facebook said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday that it “became subject to government investigations and requests relating to a former employee’s allegations and release of internal company documents concerning, among other things, our algorithms, advertising and user metrics, and content enforcement practices, as well as misinformation and other undesirable activity on our platform, and user wellbeing”.
On Wednesday The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Trade Commission has begun scrutinising internal Facebook research, in particular around whether the company’s platforms exacerbated teen mental health problems, to assess whether it had violated a $5bn settlement agreed with the agency in 2019 over privacy concerns.
Facebook also confirmed that it had instructed staff on Wednesday not to delete documents. “Document preservation requests are part of the process of responding to legal inquiries,” Joe Osborne, a Facebook company spokesperson, said.
The company’s shares have fallen more than 16 per cent since the Journal first started reporting on Facebook documents in mid-September.
In an earnings call on Monday, Zuckerberg said the metaverse would be the “successor to the mobile internet”. Facebook is hoping to attract 1bn more users and “hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce a day” in the next decade, he added.
On Thursday the company announced a slew of new metaverse, AR and VR features and projects, and sought to reassure users that privacy and safety would be built into these. This included “Horizon Home”, an application designed to allow users to socialise as avatars in a shared, imaginary home while wearing its Oculus virtual reality headsets.
Facebook also said it was moving beyond its current cartoon-like avatars and developing fully lifelike ones that mirror and track users.
In addition, the company launched a toolkit called Presence to help developers build mixed-reality experiences for the metaverse, and an app called Polar to help creators to build augmented reality filters for photo and video more easily.
Zuckerberg bemoaned “the lack of choice and high fees [that] are stifling innovation” for developers using existing operating systems, in an apparent shot against Apple and Google, whose mobile app stores charge 15-30 per cent commissions on digital goods.
Facebook plans to charge “low fees in as many cases as possible” to developers and creators using its metaverse-related services, he said.
Zuckerberg also indicated that cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens — digital tokens that represent artworks or other collectibles — would be part of the metaverse vision.
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