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.
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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.