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With so much excitement surrounding the new metaverse, many companies are diving into its technology with a greater focus on quick expansion than ensuring proper safety and legal precautions are in place. Users are now seeing the consequences of the hasty jump into the virtual world and are asking questions about the future of the metaverse.
What protections can users of the metaverse world expect, and what are the weaknesses in the current technology that must be addressed before the metaverse grows much further?
Learn about six legal and safety concerns surrounding the metaverse and protect yourself and your brand from potential issues.
When users can hide behind avatars and create fake personalities, you increase the chances of wrong behavior. Situations that society would unanimously agree are wrong grow blurry when they happen inside a virtual world.
There already have been multiple instances of sexual harassment, assault, hate speech, racism, and violence on the metaverse. Some platforms, like the metaverse Meta designed called Horizon Venues, try to prevent inappropriate groping and contact by allowing users to select a safety perimeter around their avatar.
In the legal world, assault happens when someone causes bodily harm. In a virtual world, people’s physical bodies aren’t affected. However, assaults and hate speech will still cause psychological and emotional damage, especially in hyper-realistic worlds where reality and fantasy are closely intertwined.
Before a virtual society can exist, laws must be established, and clear consequences should be outlined for when someone breaks those laws.
Another question that must be addressed is the legal consequences for the people behind the screen. To what extent can real people be charged for their virtual misconduct? How are people tracked without invading their privacy to help the legal system identify the perpetrators behind virtual criminal acts?
As laws are developed to protect players, these platforms must also find ways for monitoring behavior themselves and a process of law for accusing players. Perhaps a virtual court system could eventually come into play.
Children are an especially vulnerable group of players that can be exposed to violence, abuse, or sexual content. A child in the metaverse is also susceptible to grooming from adults who can hide behind fake avatars.
One BBC news reporter visited a metaverse platform under the persona of a 13-year-old girl. During her visit, she saw explicit sexual behavior, grooming, threats, and harassment by adults as they freely mingled with children. Her other concern from her experience was that neither her account nor age were verified before entering the world.
While many platforms offer a block and report feature, that is a reactive approach to these situations. When you report a player, the child was already exposed to mature behavior. A proactive approach for protecting underage players might include:
While these steps would help protect children, they aren’t easily achieved as they require extensive resources for monitoring. Since much of the metaverse occurs in real time and through audio versus text chat, monitoring what is said at all times is very challenging. Additionally, confirming people’s identities and ages also walks a very thin line between protection and an invasion of privacy.
Data privacy and security concerns aren’t exclusive to life in the metaverse. They exist anywhere that technology is used and data is collected and shared. The metaverse just increases the risk of data breaches.
Every time a person is online, they generate data. This data tells computers and data scientists who you are, where you came from, what you are doing, and more to create a customized online experience. More concerning is the amount of financial and personal details that technology can collect that puts you at risk of fraud and identity theft.
Developers can build trust with users by being transparent about what data they collect and use. Lawmakers must also consider how to amend current privacy laws to incorporate new risks from the metaverse.
If the metaverse ever expands into businesses like healthcare, financial services, and legal services, it must also offer secure platforms to protect sensitive data from security breaches.
As the popularity of owning virtual assets, property, accessories, and NFTs grows, the metaverse developers must define what virtual ownership means. Currently, metaverse ownership implies holding the licensing of the digital item but doesn’t clearly outline whether the buyer also owns the intellectual property.
In most cases, the creator still holds rights to their intellectual property even when they sell the licensing for their creation. The new owner only has the right to use, create, and display the NFT in a non-commercial way.
The metaverse creates new situations that could infringe on copyrights. Businesses are trying to protect their assets by applying for more licensing on their brand name, images, logos, and catchphrases. A brand’s intellectual property is at risk as other users can easily reproduce virtual designs and NFTs and sell them at cheaper rates.
Influencers are also at risk of others stealing their intellectual property. Users could use their names, antics, phrases, and appearance for NFTs they sell. Social media influencers should take steps to license themselves and their business before venturing into the metaverse.
Antitrust laws protect consumers from monopolies and encourage healthy competition between businesses. Currently, the metaverse includes several different platforms functioning on their own. However, the future vision of the metaverse is an interconnected network of platforms that users can travel between.
To build this united metaverse, companies will need to collaborate. Already, large tech organizations are acquiring several smaller businesses as they prepare for the metaverse. Each small acquisition isn’t concerning on its own, but when dozens of companies are snatching up gaming companies and tech organizations, consumers grow worried.
Is the current antitrust system ready to meet the new challenges that the metaverse will bring?
Even though social media has its benefits, excessive social media use is linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and addiction. Immersing users even deeper into social media and the internet without healthy checks and balances could lead to more significant mental health risks.
Other health and safety issues that excessively living in the metaverse might cause are increased headaches from virtual reality (VR) use, safety concerns when wearing glasses that block out the real world, and inactivity in the real world from hours spent in a virtual world.
Since metaverse platforms have only been functioning for a few years, there is no data on the long-term effects of using metaverse augmented reality (AR), VR, and other technology associated with the virtual world. There are also many questions about what further mental or psychological problems might occur down the road.
Until then, users should carefully monitor the time they spend in VR and AR and balance it with a healthy lifestyle of exercise and in-person interactions.
Take these steps to start protecting your brand in the metaverse and across other areas of the internet as technologies create new legal challenges.
The first step you can take to protect your brand and intellectual property is to file trademark applications. Your applications should look beyond your name and logo. Also protect your designs, slogans, and content.
Nike is a great example of how to legally prepare for the metaverse. They took steps to protect its brand before entering the metaverse, including getting licenses for:
As you increase your protection, you will also increase the value of your brand because you are limiting how others can use it, making it rarer and more desirable.
Before venturing into the unknown waters of the metaverse, invest in a lawyer who understands digital laws, including intellectual property laws and digital copyrights. Your legal team will help you protect your brand with the proper licensing and dispute any cases brought against your business by others who may claim you are copying their intellectual property.
You are partially responsible for the privacy and data of your consumers. Choose your metaverse platform wisely to ensure buyers you interact with are protected. You can build additional trust with consumers by operating transparently so that consumers know what data you collect and how you will use it.
As you gather data from your consumers and create your own data through interactions, consider investing in more technology for protecting that information from hackers. Many hackers see the metaverse as a field rich with consumer data. Using technology like blockchain can help you protect virtual transactions and track how people use products and information.
You don’t have to be on the metaverse to be at risk of legal and security concerns. Consumers and creators already illegally use brands and designs for NFTs they sell in their metaverse worlds. A proactive approach will help protect you against copyright infringements and prepare you for entering the metaverse in the future.
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