Misty metaverse: blurring letter of the law

30 Nov 2022 10:45h - 11:45h

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Event report

The session’s discourse on the metaverse revolved around the metaverse as a virtual social media platform or more idealistically, the metaverse as a virtual universe that comprises similar conditions and opportunities as the real world in terms of existence, rights, and ability to act and participate in society. The term metaverse has its origins in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash as a combination of ‘meta’ and ‘universe’. Various metaverses have been developed for popular use such as virtual world platforms like Second Life. Some metaverse iterations involve integration between virtual and physical spaces and virtual economies. Currently, most platforms have virtual identities, avatars, and inventories that are tied to just one platform, but the metaverse might allow you to create a persona that you can take everywhere as easily as you can copy your profile picture from one social network to another.

Government actors fear the loss of national sovereignty in virtual platforms and the amplification of unprecedented new risks in terms of cybercrime and data breaches, while private actors consider virtual reality platforms such as the metaverse a voluntary community and its governance should be left to the community members and not to the state or decentralised entity that is not part of that community. 

All actors agree that there should be a set of common rules and codes of conduct on the metaverse(s). The extent and depth, however, seem to differ. Regulating the metaverse is posing similar challenges to policymakers as regulating and governing cyberspace and the internet. 

The main challenges include: 

  • Fragmentation
  • Crime attribution
  • Applicable legislation and enforcement
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Digital safety and data protection
  • Access and speed in rural areas

The concept of the metaverse(s) will bring these challenges to an even more complex level depending on the technologies used to implement the metaverse and the local, national, and regional versions of these platforms. Many technologies used to establish the metaverse include hardware and software, such as virtual reality technology, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, etc. Many governments and companies are already facing problems in regulating these emerging technologies individually. 

Nonetheless, some countries like the Philippines and Vietnam are investing heavily in the metaverse and see clear benefits from it. The WHO has published a report on digital health and considers the benefits the metaverse could bring to people living in rural areas, who can get medical advice from a virtual avatar of a doctor. Further, proposed applications for metaverse technology include improving work productivity, interactive learning environments, e-commerce, digital health, and fashion.

Society is clearly in the very early stages of the metaverse, but there is a need to start discussing potential security and legal problems now, before the global community faces challenges it could have anticipated earlier. The UN Global Digital Compact that all internet governance actors are working on, could provide guidance on the rules and governance of metaverses. The establishment of the Digital Compact is part of the Common Agenda 2030 and a result of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.


The session in keywords

WS364 WORDCLOUD Misty Metaverse Blurring Letter of the Law IGF2022