You Thought Regulating Facebook Was Hard? Try Regulating the Metaverse
Bradley Tusk, managing partner at Tusk Venture Partners, believes we must start developing the intellectual frameworks and political understanding to regulate the Metaverse (or Metaverses). If we act now, we can avoid repeating the same mistakes that have turned social media into platforms that erode democracies and civic discourse. But if we don't act quickly, the problems with the Metaverse may be far worse than those we've seen on social networks.
KEY POINTS FROM BRADLEY TUSK'S POV
The problems we have regulating technology companies now will be reproduced and amplified in the Metaverse. You think policing state-sponsored disinformation is hard on Facebook and Twitter? Wait until you try it in 3-D.
The first order of business must be to do no harm to children. We have allowed the digital world to evolve in ways that are uniquely harmful to young minds. We must avoid perpetuating this grave error.
Governing the metaverse will require a new paradigm of cooperation and accountability across three core constituencies:
It starts with the companies themselves who need to develop their own safeguards and protections from the ground up and not wait to feign surprise at the bad things that emerge.
We will need contributions from private groups with specific interests and expertise, such as parents, mental health professionals, free speech advocates, constitutional law theorists, civil rights activists, futurists and many more.
Finally, there is our government, which must ditch its own timid, wait-and-see approach and proactively guide this process.
CHART: META'S INVESTMENT IN THE METAVERSE
OUTLOOK: REGULATING THE METAVERSE(S)
The Metaverse is a concept lacking clear definition. But at the same time, it is capturing the brightest minds at the biggest technology companies — Apple, Facebook, Microsoft — and funneling billions in investment.
The Metaverse incorporates elements of the current internet as well as virtual reality, augmented reality, and blockchain technology. It is an intangible, boundless territory where people will interact, buy and sell goods, services, and access.
Traditional boundaries of personal data, property, and privacy will be thrown into question.
Governments and other institutions will have to quickly adapt if they are to maintain a meaningful role, with safety, privacy, taxation, worker classification and consumer regulation being critical. Questions range from the fundamental, such as “Who runs the Metaverse?” to the specific and troubling: “How will we mitigate risks from terrorism and how will counter-terrorism operate in a stateless, virtual terrain?”
It is important now to begin asking the right questions and developing an intellectual framework to regulate the Metaverse in order to avoid mistakes we made with social media platforms. With social networks, regulators were late and ill-informed arrivals to the scene. Governments should start now in developing relevant regulations and laws, while taking into account potential international cooperation issues, before the Metaverse is fully established.
SPECIFIC ACTIONS NEEDED ON METAVERSE REGULATION
Governments should start now in developing relevant regulations and laws before the Metaverse is fully established. Overall, we must develop innovative ideas about governance alongside the Metaverse’s construction. The clearer we make the rules, the better the Metaverse will be for everybody.
Data ownership must be protected; universal privacy standards must be implemented; protocols should ensure interoperability between metaverses
Platform providers should take responsibility for content moderation with regards to child safety especially; Section 230, legislation which shields internet companies from liability for user-generated and hosted content, is already under attack (even Meta is calling for changes). Any resulting modifications should be extended to the Metaverse.
Consumer protections should be built into marketplaces
Workers need access to social safety-net protections
Taxation and government-backed services— including education, healthcare, vehicle registration, and elections — will need to be completely reevaluated; Universal Basic Income should be considered as an alternative means of redistributing wealth
Religious freedom must be protected; gaming regulations should keep up with innovation
The Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and FBI should come up with a plan to ensure national security on the Metaverse
We need to imagine a new version of the Cold War-era JASON task force — a group of elite scientists from academia and industry formed for the Metaverse — to tackle all these questions
WHAT ELSE TO WATCH FOR
There's a tremendous opportunity for smart, forward thinking gaming companies, especially those who can offer multi-faceted platforms for the Metaverse. These would enable people to interact and consume more and more forms of wagering. Regulators will have to work hard to keep up. The 46 states who offer lotteries will also have to reinvent their entire approach or risk losing significant funding for schools and other programs.
There is a major role for government here to define the new era of consumer protection. Look for enterprising state and local elected offcials or regulators to seize the opportunity to create something new, get a lot of attention and start putting ideas out there regarding consumer protection in the Metaverse. Consumer protection tends to be the purview of state and local government. You can get things done at the state and local level. Any successful initiatives will then create a template of universal anti-fraud protections that can be replicated across the nation. Sure, companies who are building metaverses have a major incentive to making our belongings feel safe and secure. But we can’t rely on that alone, any more than we can in the real world.
Avoiding a digital divide should turn out to be easier than thornier issues like worker classification and benefits. The federal infrastructure bill passed in November 2021 contains $65 billion for broadband expansion. But, it may not be necessary for governments to address the hardware issue at all since it’s in the interest of the big Metaverse companies to make sure everyone has the equipment they need, just like Apple, Samsung, AT&T, Verizon and the others have figured out how to get phones in the hands of most American adults.
Editor's note: This article is adapted from "Regulating the Metaverse(s)," a 6,900-word memo originally published on Mirror. Click here to read the full analysis.
From Bradley Tusk: To everyone who helped prepare the memo including Bob Greenlee, Michaela Balderston, Meaghan Collins, Erika Tannor, Kelsey Bensch, Alex Sommer, Kristina Howard, Henry Greenidge, Jon Sabol, Quinn Shean, Rachel Livingston, Christian Goode, Jocelyn Bucaro, Anne Gifford, Lisa Quigley, Harper Montgomery, Brad Welch, Frank Speiser, and Hugo Lindgren.