Metaverse: what it is, the role of identity in it and what it will look like
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How do I enter the metaverse? This is the question that most people have asked themselves when they have seen the headlines in both the written and audiovisual press about the current affairs of the metaverse. Well, before answering this question we must take into account the following statement that, although the most knowledgeable will find it banal, it is crucial to begin to understand everything: there is no single metaverse.
The proposals for alternative digital worlds are varied and different in their approach to what we mean by metaverse. In this article, we will try to explain briefly and concisely what the metaverse is, how it works, when you will be able to access it and the requirements to register. Are you ready? Let's get started.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual space where users represented as avatars perform activities of all kinds, and sometimes without limitations beyond the possibilities of interaction and operation of the controlled character, in generally three-dimensional environments.
It should be noted that metaverses are not necessarily video games, as there has been a tendency to confuse these two audiovisual and digital formats. While the video game is a digital product intended for entertainment and storytelling (as an artistic work in many cases, with gameplay associated with the narrative component of the game's plot...) that generally has a purpose, the metaverse is a space that attempts, with tools sometimes shared with video games in terms of the representation of three-dimensional worlds, to emulate a space for users to interact with each other and with the environments created.
The virtual environments of the metaverse are persistent and linked to a statically perceived world, i.e., as a rule, they are not restarted when the user leaves the world and subsequently returns to it.
While this is the basic and general concept of metaverse, there are different approaches and approaches to these virtual worlds. In these alternate realities, for example, if there is a room set aside for an activity such as a business meeting, it can be rented for use. Once it is finished and other users access it, the room is restarted, or a new one is loaded, without that permanent component we were talking about previously.
Some metaverses can range from spaces that portray real cities on earth in which to do all kinds of activities to invented places that have been designed by creatives. We recommend watching the film Ready Player One by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, based on Cline's novel of the same name, which shows what a hypothetical world would be like in which a metaverse has become the central axis of society and the economy.
In the same way that the different metaverse proposals achieve different approaches, the way to access them also varies, especially in terms of the immersive experience. Because of the way they are, these worlds invite to be experienced through augmented reality devices or the so-called virtual reality (VR) glasses, which ensure that we feel inside it as if we were really visiting it physically. However, practically all of them allow access and representation through the usual monitors, TVs or screens of all kinds.
What we can do and applications.
There is a very clear and concise answer to the question of what we can do in the metaverse: everything. Although, as we have already mentioned, each platform focuses on a specific aspect or activity, the distinguishing feature of a metaverse compared to video games, for example, is the possibility of interacting as if it were the real world. Your avatar would have freedom of movement and would not be conditioned by the story of narrative work.
- Work: Telecommuting is here to stay and many companies already have dozens of employees in full-remote format. Working in a virtual environment is closer than boring video calls, being able to gesture freely and use digital whiteboards and interactive graphics in real-time with other co-workers.
- Learning: Like teleworking, distance learning has become a safe and reliable standard thanks to assessment tools such as the most advanced proctoring tools. The metaverse is capable of creating virtual classrooms in which to interact in a more enjoyable way and in which teachers can design gamified and more motivating learning experiences. For example, medical students can be in a virtual operating room operating on an avatar with the teacher's instructions and learning in the first years of their career.
- Buying: The e-commerce of the future involves immersive experiences where the user can virtually try a product before buying it. Accessing, for example, a 3D model of a car, getting in and driving it is one of the applications already in production. Similarly, instead of spending hours searching through boring supermarket shopping portals, you can take a shopping cart and access a virtual hypermarket and go through each aisle adding a can of crushed tomato or a bottle of shampoo to the shopping cart, with localized indications of their technical and nutritional specifications. Subsequently, the order would arrive at your home through, for example, Amazon.
- Observing: From art galleries to museums to corporate exhibitions to medical congresses. Any social event or scientific exhibition can be transferred to the metaverse.
- Socializing: Many people use the Internet to make new friends, find a partner or spend time connecting with new friends on the other side of the globe. This experience can be transformed to be closer and more human thanks to virtual reality.
- Enjoyment: From concerts and talks to plays or escape rooms, immersive experiences can be created for those who can't travel hundreds of miles to see their favorite band and share it with those who live far away.
- Playing: This will be the first part we will see in the metaverse. The video game industry has experienced exponential growth and will continue to do so for decades to come. The metaverse will be embraced by millions of gamers and will be the meeting place to initiate new and more immersive shared audiovisual experiences.
Leading companies from all sectors have already set their sights on the metaverse and are developing solutions tailored to their industry to drive growth in certain areas thanks to the possibilities offered by this new way of interacting with their users, customers and employees.
Identity verification in the metaverse: what are the options?
Identity in the metaverse, KYC and security play a key role in defining what it is, how users join and who will lead it. The new space that will be created around the various metaverses and the currencies we use to operate in them requires a strong verification solution that links all these digital profiles and properties to a user's real identity.
The problems that can arise from the anonymity produced in a world where we can do literally anything as if it were the real world are already being monitored by regulators. Although no concrete steps have yet been taken specifically about the metaverse, there are already rules that apply to it about the illicit and fraudulent practices that can be committed in it.
Consultancies such as PwC have predicted a market size of more than $1,500 trillion by 2030. This refers to the digital assets of the new economy created in virtual worlds. Therefore, the identification of users for their link to their property is crucial, associating a real identity to an avatar and its possessions in this digital environment.
In many of these metaverses this would not be disclosed in the first instance to other users with whom it interacts unless malpractice occurs. Also, in educational environments where there are, for example, minors present it may be made mandatory. The anonymity or not when entering the metaverse will depend on the activity we are doing and, in any case, although other users cannot see it in, for example, socializing areas, there will be a way to identify the user if misconduct occurs.
Correct identification in the metaverse will lead to the creation of safe and reliable environments in which to operate and perform all those activities we have seen in the previous point.
Taking into account the large number of actors, players and platforms that will take part in the creation and maintenance of the metaverse, it is necessary to carefully consider how this association of profiles, credentials and avatars with a physical person will take place in a global, secure, reliable and officialized way.
As we have been explaining, the metaverse will be developed by different actors in a generally open and free framework. So how can individuals create and control their credentials with security, reliability and regulatory support? The answer to this lies in the term SSI (Self-Sovereign Identity).
Tecalis, as a leading company in identification and trust services and RegTech partner, has designed the first Know Your Customer technology for the metaverse. With it, users will have a means to generate and manage their identities and store their personal data.
Avatar Identity Technology: The first KYC technology for the metaverse
Identity technology is applied to the metaverse for the same purpose as in any other type of use case: identity verification of users by confirming that they are who they say they are in the distance with state-of-the-art anti-fraud controls.
It is important to understand that these checks must be performed on a device with a camera and microphone. Absolutely any device with a camera and microphone will be able to run the identity verification solution for the metaverse either from an internal native application or in webservice format.
Tecalis Avatar Identity Technology is intended for all metaverses, where it will be applied in one way or another depending on the characteristics of the metaverse. There is a very important concept on which Tecalis Identity Verification will work: avatars. Starting from the problem that the avatars do not represent the physical aspect that composes the identity of the subject that is handling it, we come to solve this problem by establishing different methods to solve several problems:
- Users do not represent their visual identity information in their avatars.
- There is the possibility of identity fraud by impersonating other users.
- In the event of crimes or illegal actions of any kind being committed within the metaverse, there must be a way to easily identify the user who has carried out such actions.
The first part of the solution is born in the process of digital onboarding and registration of the user on the platform. The KYC (Know Your Customer) process, in this case Know Your User, performs a series of checks creating a licit and officialized digital profile under a trust framework where there is truthful and infallible evidence that the person creating an account is who they say they are and will act solely and exclusively on their own behalf. This is sealed under an evidentiary audit document with the most demanding standards and containing all the evidence that has been developed in other parts of this same document.
After this, an identity certificate will be generated and linked to the user profiles of the different metaverses. This linkage can be done through the API integration of the Tecalis solution in the internal systems of the metaverse platform. In this case, it would be fully integrated into the user journey during the entire onboarding process and with the metaverse branding according to its standards and styles of communication, user experience and interface. The process is practically the same as the online registration of a bank account with the current standards of the European Union, being compatible with the standards of the rest of the world and being recognized and officialized.
Similarly, platforms that do not wish to integrate the solution via API into their systems can make use of Tecalis identity verification so that their users can prove their identity and confirm proof of trustworthiness in the activities they perform within their metaverses with an externally obtained web certificate.
Tecalis will create a separate web platform for identity verification in metaverso. In it, users will be able to follow the same procedure outside the metaverse user onboarding, creating an equivalent link that will serve as an identity certificate. This link can be associated to the user's profile in metaverse and would be as follows: www.nombremetaverso.tecalis.com/nombredeusuario. This unique link, linked to the metaverse profile in question, would certify at all times that the person using that profile is real, has verified his identity and is acting on his own behalf.
In the same way, Tecalis Authentication systems will establish SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) processes with a MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) login strategy to confirm every time the user is working with that profile on the platform, in a simpler way and based on the best facial technology combined with other authentication methods in use (OTP, SMS, email token, PIN, KBA...), who he/she claims to be in order to avoid any kind of identity fraud after the first identity verification registration with official documentation (IDs, DNIs, Passports, permits...).
This technology per se is not novel, as Tecalis has been implementing it in leaders in many industries and continuously improving it for them for over a decade, but below is a system that has been developed to enable double verification and the creation of avatars based on the identity of the subjects. This innovative and disruptive technology will work in the following ways:
- The creation of avatars in the various metaverses could be automated by creating 3D models of the face that simulate the original person. While many metaverses use cartoon and 3D animation styles, the technology would make it possible to link your identity certificate after the KYC process by extracting the facial biometric pattern and using it to create a unique avatar, sealed to the identity certificate and not modifiable.
- In case of creating avatars that do not base their modeling and appearance on the physical characteristics of the user: Tecalis is able to perform AI and ML recognition of avatars within the metaverse itself and then link them to the real identity and official certificate of the physical persons. That is, even if the user in the metaverse chooses to be a bear or, being an adult man with a beard, is really a young blonde woman, it is possible to verify that there is no identity fraud without having to share your real physical appearance and keeping anonymity. This technology could be usable by agencies, metaverse platforms or other users to confirm that the avatar they are interacting with in the metaverse is a person with a verified identity and not a bot or someone impersonating or with criminal intent operating under anonymity. This anonymity would still be possible as no identity information or personal data would be shared with the other users or with the platforms but it will be possible to perform this verification that the avatar in question is being handled by a person who has undergone a KYC identity verification process. The data stored will be treated in accordance with the RGPD and will only be used to display the profile "check" verified by the Tecalis Identity platform and consultable in the links www.nombremetaverso.tecalis.com/nombredeusuario. For metaverses that do not force users to customize their avatars in a unique and different way from the rest (although there are many online worlds such as video games that always generate a different random facial appearance for each user even if it can be customized with beads, clothes or other aspects...), solutions based on the interaction or the type of user, with the nickname or other non-graphical elements, will be proposed to the metaverse.
While these technologies would make sense in each and every metaverse, the reality is that their early adoption will occur especially in those for minors, education, virtual coworking spaces, meetings, medical, shopping, video calls between people, competitions, virtual asset exchange, etc.
Regulatory and legal framework
The European Union has proven to be an up-to-date body in terms of the regulation of digital environments. Thus, there is an initiative to create the European Self-Sovereign Identity Framework (ESSIF) that would be compatible with the eIDAS (electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services) framework and standard.
Tecalis Avatar Identity Technology is compatible with this regulatory framework and bases its core on its most demanding norms and standards. Using decentralized identifiers (DIDs) and based on the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI), the creation of identities in a fully official and supported framework is ensured.
Who's who in the metaverse?
As we stated at the beginning of this article, the metaverse is a set of initiatives promoted by generally private companies to develop and create virtual worlds where users can interact either for entertainment, educational or work purposes. Different platforms and private companies are investing heavily in what is set to be the future of digital entertainment and remote communications.
Facebook acquired the Oculus Rift eyewear business in 2014. This was Zuckerberg's first step to focus the company he owns on investments and developments that culminated in the restructuring of his company to be renamed Meta. Currently, his Horizon initiative is his initial bet, although there is still a long way to go.
Epic Games has stood out as one of the digital entertainment companies that has grown the most in recent years, overshadowing its former competitor Steam. In some of its video games such as Fortnite, multiple areas have been integrated with mechanics associated with a future metaverse in which it is working.
Microsoft began by betting on augmented reality with its HoloLens glasses. Subsequently, Mesh, along with the additions following the purchase of AlspaceVR, has become the Gates' brand's bet on the future to explore the possibilities of the metaverse.
While there are other noteworthy initiatives such as virtual land purchases in Decentraland, the proposals of Sansar, Rival Peak or Sensorium Galaxy in terms of shared leisure in digital spaces, we cannot say goodbye without mentioning the only metaverse proposal made by a government with public funds: South Korea's virtual reality. This national alliance aims to create a unified platform for the development of connectivities with metaverse-based functionalities for its citizens.
On the other hand, digital identity and trust services companies such as Tecalis are supporting the metaverse with solutions to make it secure, reliable and compatible with any framework in which it is developed.
History of veteran metaverses
Although this concept jumped into the public and mass conversation a few years ago with Mark Zuckerberg's announcement of the Facebook (now Meta) proposal, the term was created by Neal Stephenson in 1992. Eleven years later, the software development company Linden Lab officially launched the first digital alternative environment proposal to the market.
Second Life, which is still perfectly operational, was the starting signal for what we know today as metaverse. However, its lack of investment in polishing the 3D environment and scenarios meant that other new, more visually attractive proposals won the battle, although it continues to be a benchmark for education. The following is a list of the best known and most popular metaverses today:
- Axie Infinity
- Star Atlas
- Somnium Space
Many of them with integrated video game proposals, are increasingly turning towards the world of business, remote work, education or marketing and shopping. Meta's proposal, which seems to be more focused on the latter, is a medium-term investment that expects to be fully operational and functional by 2030 in a world that will bring about a revolution in the way we communicate online.
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