Metaverse February 28, 2023
EU Wants Metaverse Policy To Be Inclusive, Protect User Privacy
European Union Commissioner Yvo Volman says any future regulation of the metaverse must prioritize user safety, data privacy and non-discrimination. He spoke as new research suggested privacy in the metaverse might be a hard thing to achieve.
The European Commission, a form of cabinet government for the 27-member countries of the EU, has set a May 2023 deadline for implementing rules and regulations for how virtual worlds – as the metaverse may be loosely translated – should operate.
Also read: Is Your Privacy Protected in the Metaverse?
“We want to make sure that the developments that we see in virtual worlds are fully in line with our European values from the outset – values such as inclusion, respect of privacy, non-discrimination and equality,” said Volman, as reported by Coindesk.
“We have to make sure that people feel safe in virtual worlds, as safe as they do in the real world or actually perhaps even safer,” he stated. “We need to make sure that people have the right skills and tools to protect their assets in virtual worlds – their data.”
Avoiding mistakes of the Internet
Yvo Volman is the European Commission’s data director. Speaking at the DG Connect, an event hosted by the Commission in Brussels last week, he said the trading bloc should get its metaverse strategy and policy “right from the start.”
“We need to avoid some mistakes that we perhaps have made with the advent of the internet,” he explained. He pointed to the potential benefits of using the metaverse such as online surgery or education, but stressed the need “to tackle the downsides.”
What is illegal offline, should be illegal online.
The Digital Markets Act ensures that the online environment remains a safe space, safeguarding freedom of expression and opportunities for digital businesses. #EUHaveYourSay on #DSA enforcement procedures ↓
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) February 18, 2023
American author Neal Stephenson is credited with coining the term “metaverse” in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. He referred to the metaverse as an all-encompassing digital world that exists parallel to the real world.
However, the word gained significance when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of the social media company to “Meta” in 2021, a rebrand that focused on building the metaverse.
Volman’s comments are seen as part of a broad effort by the Commission to prevent anti-trust practices by Big Tech. European Commissioner for competition Margarethe Vestager, said previously that metaverse regulation must address issues of monopoly by any one firm.
“The metaverse will present new markets and a range of different businesses. There will be a marketplace where someone may have a dominant position,” Vestager told Politico in January.
Privacy in the metaverse may be hard
In our time, we take for granted the idea that Bitcoin, as a proxy for cryptocurrency, is a voice. For Bitcoin fundamentalists, political and financial freedom is nothing if not the handmaiden of privacy and decentralization. These same ideals could be applied to the metaverse.
However, as MetaNews reported recently, a new study by researchers from the University of California Berkeley suggests that privacy in the metaverse may be an impossibility.
The researchers found that a significant number of real metaverse users could be uniquely and reliably identified across multiple sessions, using only their head and hand motion relative to virtual objects.
It is a sobering find for privacy die-hards, one that could worry the European Commission. Users typically provide personal information to companies that provide say virtual reality (VR) headsets, a key tool for accessing the metaverse.
“The metaverse isn’t physical, and if based on a decentralized blockchain, would afford users a degree of pseudonymity,” Stephen Webber, developer advocate at blockchain security firm OpenZeppelin, told MetaNews.
“Part of the unique value of a metaverse built on the decentralized blockchain comes from their ability to serve as domains that allow users a sense of freedom and independence…”
Big Tech has failed to safeguard personal information in the past. In the global data collection rush involving the likes of Facebook, it was emails and phone numbers first, then came personal messages, pictures, and video.
Taco Bell’s Metaverse Wedding Actually Happened
Last year, fast food chain Taco Bell claimed to have found a couple that would marry in its eponymous metaverse. Months went by without further updates from the outlet, but now it appears that the unusual wedding actually went ahead.
The lucky couple from California had the ceremony in February of this year, and details of the event have now become public.
The Taco wedding bells
In August of 2022, Taco Bell ran a competition to find a couple it said would be married in its metaverse. The setting would be virtual but it was promised that the wedding would be real.
Sheel and Amruta from California were the lucky couple. To keep in theme with the high-tech nature of the metaverse event, Sheel said he wrote his vows with help from ChatGPT.
“I promise to always keep your phone charged,” Sheel said at the virtual altar.
“I promise to help you look for your AirPods every single morning… I promise to be your human gravity blanket whenever you ask for it. I promise to laugh at your jokes… I promise to never let our love become stale, and to always keep everything spicy and exciting. I will cherish and adore you for all eternity and spend all my days with you by my side.”
As it turned out, the Taco Bell metaverse was actually hosted within Decentraland, an open 3D virtual environment in which the land itself is owned by users. Unlike the common public perception of a metaverse that is accessed via headsets, Decentraland is browser-based, making the environment easy for anyone to enter.
Guests included people near and dear to the couple, but random Decentraland users were also apparently able to gatecrash.
A Twitch streamer going by the handle Legiqn recorded his attendance at the celebration to preserve the evening for posterity. As Legiqn pointed out, the couple had a long history with the fast food chain.
“Their first date was at a Taco Bell,” said the influencer. “I don’t think it gets anymore romantic than that.”
This takes the cake
Besides being Taco Bell-themed, the wedding also conformed to Indian traditions that the couple and their family wished to be respected.
Actor Kal Penn, known for the Harold & Kumar film series, was among those in attendance.
On conclusion of the wedding, when the couple were pronounced husband and wife, Penn interviewed the happy pair to see how they felt about their Taco Bell wedding experience.
“I’m super stoked,” Sheel said.
“It’s real,” Amruta added. “We’re married.”
From there the guests headed to the reception so the pair could have their first dance as a married couple. That was not the end of the highlights, however; there was still the small matter of who might be the next lucky person to be married in the Taco Bell metaverse.
Twitch streamer Legiqn was determined to catch the bouquet when the bride threw it over her shoulder.
“Yes, bouquet time, this is what I’ve been most excited for,” said Legiqn as he prepped himself to ‘grab’ the flowers. “This is where my gamer skills come in,” he announced to his followers as the big moment arrived. Unfortunately for Legiqn those gamers skills did him little good, as a user named Bleace caught them instead.
With the formalities over, guests danced on the virtual dancefloor to celebrate the unforgettable occasion, as a QR code flashed on the screen so they could all order Taco Bell. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.
Metaverse-themed Coworking Hub Opens in Central London
A dedicated hub for metaverse-centric startups has opened in the West End of London. Huckletree’s 22,000 square-ft office, located at 213 Oxford Street and spread across two floors, is the company’s fifth hub in the UK capital and the first seeking to “bring together Web3, creatives and investors in one place.”
Announcing the space back in September, Huckletree said the hub would see “Web3 builders working alongside Metaverse pioneers, avant-garde designers, animators, digital disruptors and a passionate investor community.”
Also Read: Mark Zuckerberg Hasn’t Forgotten the Metaverse
A space to create
As well as providing a space for web3 entrepreneurs and builders to work, Huckletree has put an expert advisory board in place to help establish the venue as a go-to workspace for industry professionals.
Board members include Founder of metaverse-focused FOV Ventures David Hanes, Jack Smyth, who manages Chanel’s web3 strategies Chanel for BrandTech Consulting, and Daniella Loftus, head of digital fashion firm This Outfit Does Not Exist.
“Web3 and the metaverse have the potential to transform every industry as we know it, and the community working behind the scenes, be they on the investment or business side, are in need of a space to call home that can also be a platform for funding, deal-flow, ideas, talent, and togetherness,” Huckletree CEO Gabriela Hersham told CityAM last year.
Themed around Web3 and the metaverse, our vision for Oxford Street is to house the most curated community of impactful brands, talent and investors, building the future of web – and the future of everything 🤘
Discover more >> https://t.co/ODD3hqcoZ5 pic.twitter.com/fCt8PFf2u6
— HUCKLETREE (@huckletree) January 4, 2023
“I’m excited to see how a space like this can help to push the physical realm and physical possibilities of Web3 to be a place where new, old, imagined and physical can converge,” added board member Ashumi Sanghvi, who is also the CEO of creative production agency MAD Global.
The workspace will be equipped with demo areas wherein tenants can stress-test new technologies and products. There is also a rooftop terrace for events, an NFT gallery for artists to display their talents (or collectors to show off their collection), an immersive meta-lounge for gaming, and several reading booths.
As well as supporting startups during working hours, the venue is expected to host web3 workshops, Q&A sessions, product demos, and meetups.
Huckletree Oxford Circus already has a few notable tenants who operate in the web3 space, including Surreal DB, MassMutual Ventures, Project A, Haven and FivePointFive. The company’s other London-based hubs include Huckletree White City, based in the Mediaworks building, and a space dedicated to GovTech, AI, security and policy in Westminster.
Appetite for physical coworking
Critics may wonder why a dedicated physical workspace is required for metaverse ventures. Isn’t the whole appeal of the metaverse that you can don your VR headset and trade ideas in a colorful virtual environment, while maintaining the same levels of productivity? In theory, yes. But though many startups favour a remote-working policy, others still prefer a hybrid or office-based model.
In a recent blog post, Gabriela Hersham pushed back against the notion that embracing the metaverse means plugging into VR and abandoning face-time with colleagues. “We’ve seen the appetite to gather in physical places for the Web3 community, take the NFT event in New York in 2022, which was claimed to the Superbowl of NFTs,” she wrote.
“Where there is community, there is a need to gather, exchange and actively collaborate… We believe there is a need to bridge connections and unlock new opportunities and deal-flow, whether that be introducing traditional creatives into how to design in the metaverse, or to upskill corporate brands on how they can unlock blockchain technology or NFT tokens for their customer campaigns or back-ops functions.”
Huckletree might be the first metaverse-oriented workspace in London, but it isn’t the first globally. Last year, EmpireDAO leased 36,000 square feet in Manhattan to create a coworking space for web3 project builders. Spread across six floors, it offered hot desk memberships tokenized as NFTs. However, the venture hit difficulties in crypto winter and closed shop at the turn of the year.
Mark Zuckerberg Hasn’t Forgotten The Metaverse
Despite mainstream media claims that Meta and Mark Zuckerberg intend to pivot from the metaverse, it is clear that the immersive web remains a big part of the company’s future plans.
Perennial skeptics are nevertheless attempting to use Meta’s most recent round of job cuts to construct a false narrative around the metaverse.
What Zuckerberg actually said
On Tuesday Mark Zuckerberg announced that Meta would cull a further 10,000 jobs from its workforce following earlier layoffs of 11,000 in November.
In a 2,000+ word letter, Zuckerberg covered far more ground than that, as the Meta CEO outlined some of the most important technology trends that will shape the company over the near to medium term. As Zuckerberg points out, one of the most important will be how the company applies AI to its apps and services.
“I believe that we are working on some of the most transformative technology our industry has ever seen,” said Zuckerberg.
“Our single largest investment is in advancing AI and building it into every one of our products. We have the infrastructure to do this at unprecedented scale and I think the experiences it enables will be amazing.”
Mainstream media has made much of the fact that the single biggest investment from Meta in the immediate future will be AI. The quote prompted CNN to ask “What metaverse?” and Business Insider to declare that Zuckerberg and Meta are moving “away from the metaverse.”
In reality, Zuckerberg’s letter immediately goes on to add:
“Our leading work building the metaverse and shaping the next generation of computing platforms also remains central to defining the future of social connection. And our apps are growing and continuing to connect almost half of the world’s population in new ways.”
During the course of this most recent address to staff, Zuckerberg mentions the metaverse two times and AI three times. Fairly poor evidence that the company is turning its back on the virtual realm.
The future of Meta
Zuckerberg is clear about where he sees the future of Meta, stating that the company is focused on building “inspiring products that improve people’s lives.”
The Zuck adds: “We do this with AI to help you creatively express yourself and discover new content, with the metaverse to deliver a realistic sense of presence, with new media formats to create richer experiences, with encryption to let you communicate privately in more and more ways, and with business tools to help reach customers, create opportunity and grow the economy.”
Clearly, AI is set to play a significant role in the future of the company, but it is only one of many strands that Zuckerberg and Meta intend to pursue. Where AI is applied, it won’t necessarily be perceived by the general public.
The latest hype cycle surrounding AI is highly focused on chatbots, but Meta has other applications in mind. The company will explore how improved AI technology can be used to increase the productivity of its engineers – something that will be important in the company’s “year of efficiency.”
Meta believes that certain workloads and processes will be automated over time, and that AI will help to identify obsolete processes. With Meta shedding 21,000 staff in the course of a year, the AI should certainly have its hands full.
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