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The Metaverse – The Hype vs The Reality

The Metaverse, much like other recent technological developments, is currently shrouded in mystery and scepticism. Many people believe that the Metaverse will usher in a period of revolutionary change that will completely alter the ways in which we work, shop, socialise, play, and interact with other individuals and businesses. Others have a more sceptical outlook and consider the phenomenon to be a hype-fuelled fad that is only popular among celebrities and gamers. Needless to say, sorting the facts from the fiction is not an easy task as there is no real definition of what the Metaverse is, and precious few online commentators can help shed any light on this. Hopefully, clearing out some of the more obvious myths will help highlight the reality. Let’s have a look at some of those.

The Metaverse is already well defined. It’s true to say that, ask 100 people what they think the Metaverse is, and you are likely to get close to 100 different answers. The truth is, the Metaverse as it stands is so new, and so different, that it’s actually quite difficult to predict where it is likely to end up. In fact, even those who currently use devices to access Metaverse worlds are unsure. A few recent reports commissioned by companies such as JP Morgan, LinkedIn, and Forbes show that most people – even those already engaged with the Metaverse, couldn’t really define it. The concepts of “immersive,” “interactive,” and “scaled network” were among the many words that were used by a number of individuals in their vivid and clear descriptions of the metaverse. Early adopters provided one of the most eloquent descriptions of the metaverse when they referred to it as a scalable and interoperable network of real-time, three-dimensional virtual worlds. Others described it as a digital world that is beyond anything that one could possibly imagine, but they did not have a clear view of how it would actually function in reality.

The Metaverse is only for gamers. Undeniably, while gaming and entertainment has got off to a flying start within the Metaverse, there are a growing number of businesses who are recognising the potential behind the technology and are buying into the concept – whatever it may be (see above). Since the introduction of the internet, the Metaverse will unquestionably represent the most significant growth opportunity for modern businesses. It is the subsequent development of digital platforms and the heir apparent to the mobile internet of the present day. However, despite the fact that many people have already caught a glimpse of this future, it appears that the primary way in which people will experience the metaverse in the near future will be through the use of two-dimensional applications on their mobile devices. Because of this, it is extremely important to maintain a focus on the skills that people are utilising today to assist in the growth of their businesses on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, or WhatsApp, as these will be the foundational skills needed to assist in the growth of a business in the Metaverse in the future.

The Metaverse will be self-regulating. The fact that the current Web 2.0 requires all manner of regulation (GDPR, COPPA, US Privacy Act etc), and this is based on the fact that the current internet is a 2D affair. Just imagine the situation when the Metaverse is inhabited by 3D avatars and increasing technology will allow us to interact in more realistic ways, and this means that people could be exposed to greater potential threats, be they physical or psychological. But there is much more to regulation than protecting people from others, and the fact that the Metaverse is likely to be a huge area of business means that Cryptocurrencies and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT’s) will become the main means of payments. However, these, unlike card payments, retain users’ information, and that can be a privacy or possibly fraud issue. Platform providers, individuals who sell virtual art, non-fungible tokens, virtual merchandise and goods, and payment providers who share personal data all have a responsibility to ensure that they have contracts in place that deal with data privacy issues in an appropriate manner. They are required to treat it as a compliance exercise and be aware of any potential dangers that may be present.

However, the regulatory focus is shifting, and it is beginning to address other factors. For the time being, the regulatory focus is primarily on service providers. For instance, the French Senate has approved a draft bill to strengthen parental control over the internet. This bill would require operating systems to install parental controls on devices by default, and similar legislation is currently being discussed in Germany. These are the start of what may become increasingly centralised legislation.

It will be easy to protect IP. The Metaverse is an opportunity to engage in entertainment of a level never encountered before via the Internet. The 3D environment of the Metaverse makes it ideal for interactive experiences, however, this can also become a problem when it comes to Intellectual Property (IP) issues. These IP issues could relate to the ownership of these experiences, but there is currently a lot of discourse relating to the fundamental structure of the Metaverse that is bringing IP into the spotlight. The issue is that the Metaverse is not constructed using any one computer program – unlike the current Internet which is universally based on HTML – and that raises the issues of interoperability. The capacity of various solutions to communicate with one another in a hassle-free and unrestricted manner is what’s meant to be referred to as “software interoperability.” Interoperable computer systems are those that are able to share information with one another in real time and do so without the need for specialised IT support or coding in the background. Interoperability is a concept that, from a legal standpoint, places restrictions on the rights that are held by the owners of computer programme rights. These rights are protected by copyright. When copyright-relevant acts pertaining to the code are “indispensable” to obtaining the information necessary to achieve the interoperability of an independently created computer programme with other programmes, their authorisation is not required. However, certain conditions must be met in order for this to be the case. These conditions include having legitimate access to the software, performing only the necessary acts, and other similar conditions. This is likely to be a legal minefield such as the current Internet has seen, and could become a defining issue with the Metaverse.

There are so many more aspects of the Metaverse that are not truly understood at the moment – even as far as the extent to which it will impact us and how it will do it – and it’s fair to say that this will become an increasingly considered area and one that we will be revisiting quite frequently.