Opinion: The metaverse could be transformative, but it’s a legal and ethical minefield

An immersive, always-on experience, the metaverse is an amalgamation of blockchain, virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile and computing technologies. Huge sums of money are being invested, and more than 160 companies are competing to build the most popular metaverse in fields as diverse as gaming, commerce, real estate, entertainment, social networking, health, education, and government.
Governments are looking at how they can use it to provide better services more conveniently; for example, the South Korean capital of Seoul plans to create a metaverse for its municipal administration. In healthcare, Apollo Hospitals Group, for example, envisions users participating in virtual reality-mediated activities to regulate their emotions. Metaverse education will revolutionize how people learn. Astronomy students will board a Star Trek-style transporter and take a spacewalk, while history students can travel in a time machine.

It’s both fascinating and terrifying to imagine visiting different metaverses in avatar form, which can be a replica of yourself. You can send your avatar clothes shopping; she can try on clothes to find the perfect fit, then order them and take them home. For the vulnerable, the disabled and the elderly, who may not be able to leave their homes, it is the appeal of being able to go to a virtual space, receive services, meet people, travel and be entertained.

But what are the downsides? Internet problems will be exacerbated in a metaverse environment. Here are some of the biggest challenges.

Damage mitigation

The accelerated growth of immersive technologies will increase trends, create alternative realities and affect human emotions. Monika Manolova, an expert on digital ecosystems in Bulgaria, warns of the addiction to immersive environments as a form of escapism. The boundaries between the real and digital worlds are becoming increasingly blurred with the convergence of social media and geolocation.
According to the European Parliament, if used excessively, metaverse can cause mental health problems and reduce physical activity. Emotional vulnerability can lead to a situation where the perception of an immersive experience can change a person’s life. People using immersive technologies, such as VR headsets, can become disoriented and unaware of real-world hazards, which can lead to injury.

Intellectual property rights and protection

Jurisdiction in the metaverse will be difficult to determine. Does it apply to the user’s location, the avatar’s location, or the computer’s infrastructure location? Intellectual property will be a challenge in the metaverse because content is distributed and replicated across decentralized networks.

security

The multi-layered structure of the virtual environment allows bad actors to encrypt and hide untraceable NFTs (non-fungible tokens – unique digital assets), making them difficult to identify and take action on.
Related: Non-Fungible Tokens Explained
NFTs will be the backbone of the metaverse economy, enabling ownership, ownership and identity authentication. However, the European Parliament highlights regulatory risks for NFTs; for example, the difference between owning an NFT and owning the right to exploit a copy of a copyrighted digital work.
An NFT cannot exist without an underlying digital asset (such as a work of art), and copyright protection is only for the asset that the NFT retains, not for the NFT itself. There is often a loose connection between an NFT and the asset it refers to.
Counterfeiting is an emerging problem; there are currently no standards and regulatory oversight of NFTs is lagging.

The metaverse offers the possibility of intentional or deliberate automation of unethical behavior at scale, and many ethical questions arise.

How can we ensure informed consent regarding personal data?

Ideally, consent should be communicated, but the metaverse immersion experience will require integration of access points; for example, mobile devices connected to other devices, such as laptops, wallets, and glasses, may share metadata about the user’s profile and device type. and unauthorized geolocation. This can include tracking body movement, brain waves and physiological responses through wearables.

Data collection will be involuntary and continuous, informed consent will be almost impossible. How do we avoid a scenario where people can be controlled, manipulated and monetized?

Should avatars have rights?

Some academics suggest that people in the virtual world have rights to freedom and well-being and have moral rights and obligations similar to their counterparts in the real world. That premise can raise some interesting questions; for example, if you kill people in the virtual world, are you a murderer?
Avatars can exacerbate the negative aspects of social media engineering, such as groupthink, silos, and hate chambers. Research has found that self-representative avatars remain an anchor in the real world. At the same time, more abstract representations allow users to completely disconnect from reality and experience new, potentially harmful experiences.

Should children enter the metaverse?

The metaverse promises a unique and rich experience for children. However, in a hyper-realistic and immersive environment, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real and the augmented, as technologies involve sense-making experiences that affect the brain, memory and cognition. This can have harmful side effects for vulnerable children if they are exposed to abuse, bullying, harassment, racism and pornographic content. How do we know which users are children? How do we protect them?

How can we incorporate basic ethical values ​​into the metaverse?

Have we asked the creators of the metaverse to consider appropriate safeguards? A possible solution could be to connect developers more closely with the ethical outcomes of their decisions and algorithms, and encourage the community to take a more active and rigorous stance on ethics.

As we enter this compelling, unique, and immersive world of the future, we must intentionally build to account for the ethical questions that are already emerging. The Metaverse will transform humanity on a depth and scale rarely seen.

Life in the Metaverse can be fulfilling and rewarding, creating social purpose and offering new avenues for economic activity. But will we be able to influence the digital overlords, gaming titans and Web 3.0 innovators racing to build metaverses so we understand ethics well?