Rights body demands safeguards as metaverse expands
The Alliance for Universal Digital Rights is urging tech companies, regulators and lawmakers to consider inclusivity and vulnerable groups as 3D-enabled digital spaces continue to grow online.
In partnership with the International Observatory on Vulnerable People in Data Protection (Vulnera) the rights body has published a research paper on the possibilities for the metaverse (in the broadest sense, not Meta’s version) and the potential impacts of this space on the lives of individuals.
The paper calls for tech companies and governments to take a “measured approach” to building out the metaverse rather than one of “unconditioned enthusiasm” which could lead to decisions that negatively impact vulnerable groups.
To ensure Big Tech does not repeat the sins of web. 2.0, which has been plagued with trolling, harmful algorithms a lack of privacy, cyber attacks and biases, the report has called for businesses developing the metaverse to follow the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights.
“Technology companies should be required to assess the impact of the metaverse on the human rights of people who are vulnerable or marginalised and conduct meaningful consultation with affected groups and other stakeholders,” the report’s summary stated.
Human rights organisations also want assurances that companies involved in the metaverse’s creation will be able to monitor the impact they have on the human rights of vulnerable groups and to involve them in the design processes.
The paper – published on Wednesday – also urged lawmakers to clarify whether the current laws which prohibit sexual violence are applicable in the metaverse and to address any gaps by enacting new laws and policies.
The alliance also advised a clampdown on AI-based emotional recognition technologies and harmful algorithms that may affect a user’s mental health.
According to the alliance’s global coordinator and digital rights champion Emma Gibson, the burden of responsibility to ensure these safeguards happen lies currently with the tech companies.
But she argued this could lead to people accepting unfair or undesirable terms and conditions, or choices that are favourable to Big Tech, but not to individuals.
“It may seem that the debate around digital ethics has moved away from the metaverse and onto ethics of large language models. But the ambition of creating an immersive experience replicating every aspect of our physical lives has not disappeared,” she said.
“More work is needed by governments to make sure that our experiences in the metaverse don’t mirror the negative things that happen to so many socially disadvantaged people on the internet and social media. Including checking whether our current laws which prohibit sexual violence apply in the metaverse,” she added.
Subscribe to our Editor's weekly newsletter