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How Regulation of the Metaverse Could Impact Your Business

There is a growing clamour for at least some kind of regulation in the Metaverse, with many pundits suggesting that this should be carried out earlier rather than allowing the Metaverse to become well-established and thereby increasingly difficult to control. But why would regulation be required anyway?

Over the course of the past thirty years, the fundamental immersive media technologies of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have made steady progress, which has made it possible to provide high-fidelity experiences at consumer prices. During the same time period, the speeds of networking have dramatically increased, culminating in the deployment of 5G networks. When taken together, these technological advancements significantly improve the prospects for widespread adoption of virtual and augmented worlds. 

Major corporations all over the world are currently investing billions of dollars into the development of immersive worlds that will target mainstream activities such as socialising, shopping, learning, and conducting business. It is important to consider the risks to consumers and plan for meaningful regulation in light of the possibility that over the next decade society will become increasingly dominated by metaverse environments that are controlled by corporations. This is especially important to keep in mind in light of the unexpectedly negative impact that platforms for social media have had on society in recent years.

Multiple parts of the Metaverse that are geared towards either the social consumer or business use are either in the process of being developed or are experiencing rapid expansion. Developers working on the Metaverse will create their own data protection policies and will most likely opt to self-regulate in the early stages of bringing their platforms to the market. Existing laws can be applied to the Metaverse, which will result in the emergence of new concerns that businesses will need to take into consideration. Despite the fact that there is no standardised Metaverse regulation at this time. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union (EU) is the best example because it contemplates the protection of personal data, including biometric data. Another good example is the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation (PECR) of Canada, which treats data in a similar way and, along with several other international legislative tools, has to be complied with. There are a variety of other legislative tools that could be directed at the Metaverse, and become a necessity to include in the overall structure.

At the moment, the most popular shared world platforms that are considered to be based on the Metaverse are games. These games are largely based on the conventional Web 2.0-style infrastructure, which means that they are centralised, and in most cases, they are not interoperable. Consider the fact that Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox have a combined 100 million daily users: in contrast, the most popular social shared world platforms, such as Zepeto, Second Life, and Altspace, only have about 40 million monthly active users. The primary regulatory challenges that these platforms are up against are very similar to those that social platforms are up against, in that they concern privacy and moderation. There are also more specific challenges, such as making sure people don’t feel threatened by preventing others from coming physically or emotionally too close to them. 

This has been a fairly simple problem in the past because the internet as we knew and used it was really just a rudimentary repository of information with some smart features, but the immersive Metaverse will be a whole different case. As we get closer to this level of technology, which will merge the virtual and the physical, whoever owns the operating system that powers it could overlay whatever they want onto the world around us as we get closer to this level of technology. It is possible that more in-depth data about us, our behaviours, and our surroundings could be collected, and in some cases, it may be necessary for the technology to function properly and as intended. 

But regulation could also force a good deal of standardisation, and that may not be a good thing for business and individuals. One of the main areas that is resisting this is the growing use of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens as a means of pay for an increasing number of transactions in Web 2.0 and the Metaverse, and there are many forms to choose from. This raises the question of whether or not global blockchains should be synchronised. Is it possible to regulate chains as if they were individual entities, or should the rules be determined by the locations from which users access them? The permanence of data is one of the benefits offered by blockchains; however, this feature raises questions about the amount of control that individuals have over the information that is stored about them. But would synchronisation mean that transactions come under a few global authorities – such as banks control money now – and would that level of control adversely impact the freedoms of those using the Metaverse? If we have too much regulation, will free-will suffer, and creativity – the very substance of the Metaverse – with it?

Regulating anything is never simple and almost never a popular activity. However, if there are no regulations placed on the companies that provide platforms, we may find ourselves in a highly mediated world that appears and feels natural, while behind the scenes, powerful corporations are using our lives as a means of persuasion and manipulating our experiences, effectively without our knowledge. Because this is not the future that we want for ourselves or for our children, we need to start advocating for the correct level of regulation right away.

Undoubtedly, any business using the Metaverse will want to have a degree of regulation and there should be rules for all users, but the level of that control, and who ultimately administers it, is likely to be a subject that we will hear more and more of in the next few months and years. Keep checking back as we investigate this fascinating subject further.