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Today's Cache | Facebook's next bet may not be social media

Illustration: Reuters  

As Facebook’s existing businesses are under scrutiny, the social network is moving ahead with its next venture

Facebook and its family of apps have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Last year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled by the U.S. Senate over his decision to acquire Instagram, a potential competitor to Facebook back in 2011. After the July 2020 hearing, a bill was introduced in September to modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The move was aimed at making social media platforms liable for the content they allow.

For some time, it looked like Facebook was putting its house in order. And then, news about its photo-sharing app opening the application to children under 13 picked up steam. Instagram’s CEO Adam Mosseri told Buzzfeed news in March that “It’s one of the things we’re exploring.” That led to 44 attorneys general in the U.S. signing an open letter asking Facebook to abandon its plans.

While that didn’t stop the social media giant, an ex-Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower’s testimony in September did the job. The photo-sharing app said it would put development of a kids’ version of Instagram on hold to address concerns raised about the vulnerability of children.

Also read | Could Facebook sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

It was a tough call for Facebook as an Instagram version for youngers users was not just another app for the social media giant; it was an existential need for a company whose primary business was selling ads. And this is demographic that Facebook needs to stay ahead in the ad-selling business.

But, the fallout from the whistleblower’s testimony, a hostile regulatory environment, and changing consumer demographic have pushed Facebook into a different realm - - building a digital world. The shift is evident from who Zuckerberg picked to replace its outgoing Chief Technology Officer Mike Shroepfer.  

Shroepfer will pass the baton on to Facebook’s current head of hardware Andrew Bosworth, whose portfolio includes Oculus division. The virtual reality headset is the gateway for Facebook to create the digital world it calls ‘metaverse’. Unlike its social media venture, the plan to build a digital world is grander.  

“The metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone,” Bosworth wrote in a blog post. “Just like the internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not.”

And the time horizon to get this off the ground will take 10-15 years. And what’s more interesting: Facebook plans to hunt for talent to build its virtual world outside Silicon Valley. The tech giant is planning to set its base for the metaverse project in the EU. The company plans to hire nearly 10,000 engineers, about a fifth of all its employees, in the next 4-5 years to start the development of metaverse.

 

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 9:18:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/todays-cache-newsletter/article37064663.ece

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