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Many science fiction books, comics, games and movies are based on alternative digital worlds, indistinguishable from the real and physical world. As can be seen through current technological advances, they have never gone beyond that, namely fiction.
In fact, given the limited technological advances in this space (at least, the ones that are released to the public), today’s virtual spaces have more in common with video game scenarios than, strictly speaking, with real life.
Currently, people interact through websites / computer applications associated with social networking platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) or through cross-platform instant messaging and voice calling applications (e.g. for example, Whatsapp or Telegram).
Thus, perhaps due to the frustration of the expectations created by fiction, interest in products related to virtual reality (such as Second Life) or increased (for example, through Google Glass) tends to be ephemeral.
However, this time, the scenario seems to be different.
Several investors and companies in the technology sector have expressed interest in developing a virtual world that, by all indications, could mean the next phase of development of the internet itself.
On October 28, 2021, through a post on his Facebook page called a letter from the founder, Marc Zuckerberg announced a change in the name of his company, in particular “Facebook, Inc.” to “Meta Platforms, Inc.” As a result, the brand name was changed from “Facebook” to “Meta”.
This marketing strategy, that is, this rebranding, in addition to diverting attention from recent pressures from regulators (in the US and the EU), also directs the same attention to the new priority of the company: the creation of a virtual reality. i.e. a metaverse.
The investment made by Facebook in the production and sale of virtual reality headsets called Oculus Quest is an example of this new priority.
Timothy D. Sweeney, creator and CEO of Epic Games, Inc., a company that develops electronic games (Fortnite being the best known), also encouraged the creation of a metaverse, given rumors regarding the announcement of Mark Zuckerberg.
Online multiplayer electronic games, such as Fortnite, have been providing shared and interactive worlds for decades. Although they are not metaphysics, there are some basic principles in common. There are so many that in recent years (especially in the last two years, due to the application of restrictive measures of mandatory containment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic), Fortnite has expanded its product through concerts, events to promote brands, among others, all through their digital world.
As for the restrictive measures of compulsory confinement, all indications are that they also contribute to the acceptance and intensification of interest and the development of this phenomenon. With the trivialization of teleworking, or even distance learning, the conditions of online interaction tend to be increasingly appreciated.
But not alone. Just think of the kind of events that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, took place because of video conferencing software, with many participants at a distance, regardless of their geographical location. From birthday parties, to fitness or other sports classes, weddings and even court trials.
As if that wasn’t enough, the implementation of 5G and broadband mobile networks (which reduce latency), as well as the discussion around the possibility of replacing traditional physical currency with a legal tender for a digital currency (which facilitates virtual business). it also seems to contribute to the intensification of the development of this phenomenon.
The metaverse concept has thus become the buzzword in the business and technology sector. But, after all, what exactly does this concept mean and, moreover, what are the legal issues that, more than ever, should attract the attention of regulators?
Regarding the first question, it seems that this is a broad concept. In general, it consists of a space or set of virtual and shared spaces (commonly called worlds / digital / virtual environments), where users, represented by 3D avatars, can enter and interact with their headphones (and other possible accessories). , from what they have. internet access. These spaces are made up of the use of virtual reality (virtual reality – VR) and / or augmented reality (Augmented Reality – AR).
Unlike current virtual reality technology, which is mainly used for electronic games, the resulting technology can be used to simulate virtually all situations associated with the physical world, from professional activities to virtual concerts. , online cinema or even alone. enjoy some time with friends.
The goal is to eliminate the boundaries between the physical world and virtual reality, allowing users to interact with virtual objects across the physical world and vice versa, thus having the ability to transfer any information in real time.
As for real-time information, it should be noted that the metaverse may also include the use of blockchain technology, with users being able to buy and sell non-fungible cryptocurrencies (commonly called digital or virtual assets, such as and, for example, -fungible-tokens – NFTs) through fungible cryptocurrencies (commonly called cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which serve as a payment method), which can be accessed, for example, through digital art galleries. virtual machines (offering NFT). dubbed digital collectibles), accessible via headphones and any accessories.
In the context of a blockchain-based virtual world, with a virtual economy, cryptocurrencies are issued using blockchain technology, in addition to allowing the digital representation of fungible financial products (such as monetary values or even stocks). of the company), also allow digital. representations of non-financial non-financial products (NFT), if they are hard, ie tangible and physical goods (such as real estate or even furniture, such as a car or a painting), if they are deals with soft assets, i.e. intangible or digital assets (such as computer applications, digital art pieces – digital collections, or even virtual real estate). The possibilities are virtually limitless.
In short, with the implementation of a metaverse, new online spaces are created (which, over time, will be increasingly appreciated and sought after), in which users can interact in a multidimensional way, that is, instead of seeing content only. they can be immersed in digital content through their respective digital representations.
Which brings us to the second question, namely, what are the legal issues that, given the above, should more than ever attract the attention of regulators. In this case, there are, among others, issues related to the various branches of law and various sectors of activity, such as, for example, those related to intellectual property, data protection and even with the ‘NFT themselves.
First of all, imagine that in a given virtual reality, in a given virtual space, two or more content creators, or even simple users, collaborate and contribute to the creation of a digital asset in a digital space or even to the creation of another digital. space. Who is the intellectual (or virtual?) Owner of this property or space, and in what terms? Are your copyrights protected? Also, is it possible to create, protect, and advertise brands in a virtual world? What are the mechanisms that content creators / users can use to protect their brand in the virtual world?
On the other hand, since people tend to spend most of their life (either awake or asleep) in the metaverse, what will become of the data resulting from their activity?
Who guarantees the protection of the identity and privacy of individuals?
What happens if our information or identity is misused?
Who is responsible and in what terms?
So far, we have only had the opportunity to see the creation and issuance of certain crypto-assets linked to certain and specific sectors of activity.
Imagine that, in the short term, a kind of parallel virtual society is created and with it, crypto assets are created and issued that, virtually, represent all possible and existing objects, cities, regions, countries or even worlds. whole. .. and everything connected. In the context of this virtual world, who has the virtual legal capacity? That is, who can buy and sell? Are payment methods cryptic? Are there any financial instruments? What rules this virtual world?
These are the questions that, among many others, are being asked and that, for now, remain unanswered or with inconclusive answers.
As is well known, regulators need to monitor the progress of new technologies, essentially to safeguard and ensure the safety of people’s lives and the legal business itself.
This monitoring is constituted (or should be constituted) primarily in an attempt to conceptualize and understand the functional potential and transformation of the issues and legal implications resulting from these new technologies.
In this sense, some argue that the metaverse should simply be framed within existing legal frameworks. But there are also those who say that a legal system should be created only to regulate the metaverse.
All indications are, however, that regulators are seeking to maintain a position similar to the position taken on increasing the notoriety of blockchain technology and Bitcoin, i.e., initially seeking to conceptualize and understand it.
It remains to be seen how long it will be possible to maintain this position. Probably until the day the press publishes a certain “tragedy” linked to the metaverse, which arouses the attention of the general public and, with it, arouses a certain political reaction. Or will someone else, because of their activity, provoke this reaction?