China’s push for metaverse regulation raises concerns over privacy and freedom

This article delves into China’s ambitious plans for the metaverse, the potential consequences for privacy and freedom, and their bid to set global standards in this nascent digital landscape.

Unreal futuristic robot cyborg like people with cityscape and digital metaverse grid in background

The advancement of technology continues to reshape the way we interact with the digital realm, and one of the most talked-about developments is the metaverse. A virtual universe where interconnected digital worlds thrive, the metaverse has garnered considerable attention worldwide. In the midst of this technological revolution, China has emerged as a major player, putting forth proposals to define and regulate this new virtual frontier.

China’s proposals for the metaverse revolve around the implementation of a ‘Digital Identity System.’ This system, if realized, would collect and store the personal data of users in the metaverse. Ostensibly, the goal is to ensure order and safety within this virtual space. However, experts have voiced apprehensions about the implications for privacy and individual freedoms.

The echoes of China’s controversial social credit system, which evaluates citizens’ trustworthiness across various aspects of life, are hard to ignore. The metaverse’s Digital Identity System bears a striking resemblance to this system, raising concerns that it could result in similar consequences for individuals who fall afoul of its standards. China has been incrementally adopting its social credit system since its proposal in 2014, with plans for a nationwide rollout in 2022, lending credence to these comparisons.

China’s global ambitions in the metaverse

China’s aspirations extend beyond its borders. The nation is actively positioning itself as a global leader in shaping the standards and regulations governing the metaverse. This endeavour is channelled through its participation in the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency responsible for setting international telecommunications standards.

What’s striking is that Chinese entities are flooding ITU with proposals at a rate that surpasses their Western counterparts. This prolific output, often supported by government subsidies, places China in a prime position to influence the metaverse’s future development. Consequently, experts worry that these efforts could pave the way for a state-controlled and monitored metaverse.

The repercussions of China’s involvement in ITU extend beyond the metaverse. This relentless influx of proposals from Chinese actors, often linked to government backing, has damaged the organization’s reputation and influence. The consequence? US and European technology companies increasingly disregard ITU standards in favour of alternative frameworks, further fracturing global standards and cooperation.

Why does it matter?

China’s proposals for regulating the metaverse carry profound implications. While they profess to enhance order and safety within this digital domain, the potential for privacy violations and restrictions on individual freedoms is a stark concern. Moreover, China’s active participation in shaping global metaverse standards through ITU raises the spectre of a state-controlled virtual world.

The metaverse, with its limitless potential and possibilities, is fast becoming the arena where nations vie for dominance. China’s ambition to lead in metaverse development, coupled with its influence over international standards, underscores the critical importance of ongoing discussions about the future of this digital frontier. As experts caution against the potential consequences, it becomes clear that the metaverse’s evolution is not just a technological matter but one deeply intertwined with issues of governance, privacy, and global influence.