Why the Metaverse needs rules

A country’s constitution establishes the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Therefore it makes sense that the Metaverse, which is likely to be somewhat akin to a country, should have something similar. Otherwise, as Stephanie Hurlburt and Rich Geldreich say in an article on the topic, “we fear the metaverse will fail as a public, open system and only recreate social media’s glaring flaws with steroids.”

The two tech entrepreneurs and co-founders of Binomial, point out that the dangers we have already seen: Facebook was found to be shaping election results, and Twitter “was embroiled in scandals around its impact on public safety and censorship.”

If the Metaverse is uncontrolled, it is likely that we may find ourselves exploited by it. Just as we were by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, perhaps in an even worse way.

Hurlburt and Geldreich say one way to ensure this doesn’t happen is by insisting that the Metaverse’s core building blocks are made of open standards and open source code. Furthermore, all data policies must be both transparent and understandable, and any research conducted in the Metaverse must be made instantly available to the public.

We must also establish what the Metaverse is and what it isn’t. In some ways the series of lockdowns most of us have been through in the last two years have normalised living virtually, so we’re prepared for a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialise, play, and work.

Neither should one company own the Metaverse. Most of you will be aware that Facebok has changed its name to Meta, which is a blatant attempt to co-opt and dominate the emergence of a Metaverse. The social media giant has already invested $10 billion in it this year, an eye-watering sum that points to their strategy.

Now we must ensure we learn from the mistakes of the past, i.e. the way in which the social media platforms have insinuated themselves into global politics for one. Hurlburt and Geldreich believe the best way to avoid this is by having some simple rules. These include establishing who can access its key building blocks, and the answer should be everyone. They give the example of the Internet. When Tim Berners-Lee created the Internet, he released key pieces as open source code that was free and accessible for everyone. The Metaverse and Web 3.0 must operate on the same principle.

Data policies are both transparent, and understandable. Facebook, Twitter and Co may have a data waiver policy, but few of us understand it. So we need policies that are clear to the majority, because if the Metaverse is left unchecked, personal data mining and extraction could become the single most powerful surveillance mechanism ever invented.

Governments can create rules and laws for the Metaverse. For example, a company’s earnings must be made public by law, so a company’s research in the Metaverse could easily follow a similar rule. More protection is also needed from algorithms that direct people to extremist sites. Research showed that 64% of people visiting such pages had been directed there by the Facebook algorithm, and there are strong arguments for making this information public, rather than allowing a company like Facebook to cover it up.

Companies also have a role to play. Whilst governments make laws, companies should agree “a set of baseline rules.” They must know by now that the court of public opinion is not often on their side these days, so they need to pay attention. Hulburt and Geldreich say, “If the public displays enough appetite for a Metaverse constitution, Big Tech’s hands will be tied.”

The future of the Metaverse is in your hands, just as much as it is in the hands of the tech companies. Make use of your power before others strip it away.

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