China’s top prosecutor warns cybercriminals are exploiting blockchain and metaverse projects

China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) is ramping up efforts to combat cybercrime by targeting criminals who use blockchain and metaverse projects for illegal activities. The SPP is alarmed by the recent surge in online fraud, cyber violence, and personal information infringement. Notably, the SPP has observed a significant rise in cybercrimes committed on blockchains and within the metaverse, with criminals increasingly relying on cryptocurrencies for money laundering, making it challenging to trace their illicit wealth.

Ge Xiaoyan, the Deputy Prosecutor-General of the SPP, highlights a 64% year-on-year increase in charges related to cybercrime-related telecom fraud, while charges linked to internet theft have risen nearly 23%, and those related to online counterfeiting and sales of inferior goods have surged by almost 86%. Procuratorates have pressed charges against 280,000 individuals involved in cybercrime cases between January and November, reflecting a 36% year-on-year increase and constituting 19% of all criminal offenses.

The People’s Bank of China (PBoC) acknowledges the importance of regulating cryptocurrency and decentralized finance in its latest financial stability report. The PBoC emphasizes the necessity of international cooperation in regulating the industry.

Despite the ban on most crypto transactions and cryptocurrency mining, mainland China remains a significant hub for crypto-mining activities.

G7 digital and tech ministers discuss AI, data flows, digital infrastructure, standards, and more

On 29-30 April 2023, G7 digital and tech ministers met in Takasaki, Japan, to discuss a wide range of digital policy topics, from data governance and artificial intelligence (AI), to digital infrastructure and competition. The outcomes of the meeting – which was also attended by representatives of India, Indonesia, Ukraine, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, the International Telecommunication Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, UN, and the World Bank Group – include a ministerial declaration and several action plans and commitments to be endorsed at the upcoming G7 Hiroshima Summit.

During the meeting, G7 digital and tech ministers committed to strengthening cooperation on cross-border data flows, and operationalising Data Free Flow with Trust (DFFT) through an Institutional Arrangement for Partnership (IAP). IAP, expected to be launched in the coming months, is dedicated to ‘bringing governments and stakeholders together to operationalise DFFT through principles-based, solutions-oriented, evidence-based, multistakeholder, and cross-sectoral cooperation’. According to the ministers, focus areas for IAP should include data location, regulatory cooperation, trusted government access to data, and data sharing.

The ministers further noted the importance of enhancing the security and resilience of digital infrastructures. In this regard, they have committed to strengthening cooperation – within G7 and with like-minded partners – to support and enhance network resilience through measures such as ensuring and extending secure and resilient routes of submarine cables. Moreover, the group endorsed the G7 Vision of the future network in the Beyond 5G/6G era, and is committed to enhancing cooperation on research, development, and international standards setting towards building digital infrastructure for the 2030s and beyond. These commitments are also reflected in a G7 Action Plan for building a secure and resilient digital infrastructure

In addition to expressing a commitment to promoting an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet, G7 ministers condemned government-imposed internet shutdowns and network restrictions. When it comes to global digital governance processes, the ministers expressed support for the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as the ‘leading multistakeholder forum for Internet policy discussions’ and have proposed that the upcoming Global Digital Compact reinforce, build on, and contribute to the success of the IGF and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process. Also included in the internet governance section is a commitment to protecting democratic institutions and values from foreign threats, including foreign information manipulation and interference, disinformation and other forms of foreign malign activity. These issues are further detailed in an accompanying G7 Action Plan for open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure internet

On matters related to emerging and disruptive technologies, the ministers acknowledged the need for ‘agile, more distributed, and multistakeholder governance and legal frameworks, designed for operationalising the principles of the rule of law, due process, democracy, and respect for human rights, while harnessing the opportunities for innovation’. They also called for the development of sustainable supply chains and agreed to continue discussions on developing collective approaches to immersive technologies such as the metaverse

With AI high on the meeting agenda, the ministers have stressed the importance of international discussions on AI governance and interoperability between AI governance frameworks, and expressed support for the development of tools for trustworthy AI (e.g. (non)regulatory frameworks, technical standards, assurance techniques) through multistakeholder international organisations. The role of technical standards in building trustworthy AI and in fostering interoperability across AI governance frameworks was highlighted both in the ministerial declaration and in the G7 Action Plan for promoting global interoperability between tools for trustworthy AI

When it comes to AI policies and regulations, the ministers noted that these should be human-centric, based on democratic values, risk-based, and forward-looking. The opportunities and challenges of generative AI technologies were also tackled, as ministers announced plans to convene future discussions on issues such as governance, safeguarding intellectual property rights, promoting transparency, and addressing disinformation. 

On matters of digital competition, the declaration highlights the importance of both using existing competition enforcement tools and developing and implementing new or updated competition policy or regulatory frameworks ‘to address issues caused by entrenched market power, promote competition, and stimulate innovation’. A summit related to digital competition for competition authorities and policymakers is planned for the fall of 2023.

Regulating digital games

Regulating digital games is a topic that has been at the forefront recently due to the advancement in gaming technology. US Congress pushed the games industry to set up an Entertainment Software Ratings Board to determine age ratings. This led to the Pan European Game Information rating in 2003. This rating system is similar to that of films.

As online games have become more impactful, the question of content regulation is becoming more important. This issue got in the focus after the Christchurch shootings in 2019, when users of Roblox, an online gaming platform, started re-enacting the event. After this incident, Roblox employs “thousands” of human moderators and artificial intelligence to check user-submitted games and police chat among its 60m daily users, who have an average age of about 13.

This has prompted debates on how to regulate social media-like conversations. Politicians have argued that the constitution should protect in-game chat as it is considered similar to one-to-one conversation.

Game makers are doing their best to design out bad behaviour before it occurs. For example, when users of Horizon Worlds complained of being virtually groped, a minimum distance between avatars was introduced.

Similar o content moderation of social media, online gaming will trigger new policy and governance challenges.

Africa Tech Festival 2023

Africa Tech Festival will be held from 14 until 16 November 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa.

During the three-day festival, there will be two main events with the aim to unite Africa’s tech ecosystem and industry verticals.

The first one is Africom which will focus on topics of Connectivity Infrastructure and Digitial Inclusion with an emphasis on: Connecting Africa’s Next Billion; Digital Infrastructure Investment; Telcos of Tomorrow; Sustainable Development & Green ICT, and Future Visions: Web3, The Metaverse & Beyond, among others.

The second event called Afritech will focus on topics on Entreprise Transformaiton and Emerging Technologies with an emphasis on: AHUB: Africa’s Start-up Scene; AI, IoT & Disruptive Tech, and Cybersecurity & Data Protection, among others.

For more information, please visit the event page.

Indian University launches MBA programme in the metaverse and web 3.0

India-based private university UPES School of Business has announced the launch of an MBA programme on metaverse and web 3.0, aiming to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the metaverse, blockchain, and web 3.0 ecosystems. The two-year programme is intended to offer theoretical knowledge of the metaverse, practical experience with companies working in the metaverse arena, and immersive experiences through Meta labs.

The programme’s designers promise to offer students a hands-on experience to better understand the metaverse and its associated technologies, and to equip them with the necessary skills for the future metaverse market.

Seoul officially launched its metaverse platform

The Korean capital Seoul has officially launched its metaverse platform dubbed Metaverse Seoul, where users will experience an immersive public service. In this virtual environment, users could fill out official paperwork, get help with taxes, and use other city services created for businesses, education and tourism. The platform will also include a virtual city hall, well-known touristic locations and a counselling service for adolescents and teens that offers mentoring and education.

The virtual platform will be developed over several phases, with official figures indicating that about $1.6 million has been invested and that the project’s second phase will cost about $2.2 million.

According to Seoul’s administration, the goal is to create a platform that would eventually manage all of the city’s administrative functions.

ITU-T launches focus group on metaverse

A Focus Group on Metaverse was established at the International Telecommunication Union’s Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) with the goal of supporting pre-standardisation activities for the metaverse.

Aspects to be considered as part of the group’s work include, among others: working definitions and terminology, concepts, vision, use cases, and ecosystem; technical requirements; technical frameworks and characteristics, including identification of fundamental underlying technologies; aspects related to security and the protection of personally identifiable information; networking infrastructure and connectivity; and interoperability.

The focus group is expected to carry out activities such as:

  • Study terminology and concepts.
  • Identify and study enabling technologies and key tasks for standardisation purposes.
  • Study and gather information to develop a pre-standardisation roadmap.
  • Build a community of experts to unify concepts and develop common understandings.
  • Identify stakeholders with whom ITU-T could collaborate.
  • Establish liaisons and relationships with other organisations that could contribute to pre-standardisation activities.

Breakthrough in haptic technologies will provide a greater sense of touch in metaverse-like environments

Researchers from the City University of Hong Kong have announced a breakthrough in haptic technologies. To provide a more genuine sense of  ‘touch’ experience in the extended realities, the team has developed a more advanced haptic wireless glove dubbed WeTac.

Unlike the existing haptic gloves that are bulky and reliant on wires and cables, limiting users’ ability to fully immerse themselves in the metaverse, the WeTa glove overcomes these limitations by providing an ultrathin, skin-integrated wireless solution.