30 October 2023
October 2023 – 1 of 3 Insights
The European Parliament recently released a draft report that discusses the legal and ethical challenges surrounding the development of virtual worlds and the metaverse. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the EU's stance on these issues, focusing on key points that have been emphasized as particularly important.
The European Parliament endorses the European Commission's definition of virtual worlds as "persistent, immersive environments, based on technologies including 3D and extended reality (XR), which make it possible to blend physical and digital worlds in real time, for a variety of purposes." This endorsement is significant because it provides a foundational definition that can be universally applied for legal and regulatory purposes. A standardized definition is crucial for establishing the scope of laws and regulations that govern these digital spaces, thereby offering legal clarity for users, developers, and policymakers alike.
The European Parliament has called on the Commission to develop guidelines and best practices that clarify the legal obligations and responsibilities in the metaverse. This is in line with the Commission's focus on consumer protection, and the Parliament also calls for action against addictive and dark patterns on the internet. The integration of ethical considerations into legal frameworks is a proactive approach that could pave the way for new regulations specifically tailored to virtual environments. This is particularly relevant as the Commission is already looking into consumer protection, indicating that comprehensive regulations in this area are likely on the horizon.
The European Parliament highlights the unique identifiability of VR sensor data, equating it to a fingerprint scan. This data can be used to infer a range of personal attributes such as age, gender, income, ethnicity, and disability status. The Parliament believes that this raises significant ethical concerns, especially in the context of GDPR. They stress that consent for data collection should not be a one-time event at the point of entry into the virtual world but should be ongoing and specific to each use case. This aligns with the GDPR's purpose limitation principle and underscores the need for robust data protection measures in virtual worlds.
The report suggests that a reform of the Brussels I Directive may be necessary due to the global and decentralized nature of virtual worlds. Traditional territorial principles, such as the 'mosaic criterion,' may not be applicable. This criterion allows an injured party to seek compensation in the courts of the countries where at least part of the harm occurred. However, the Parliament suggests that an additional criterion could be codified into the Brussels I Regulation, allowing injured parties to claim compensation through the courts of the country in which they have their main interest. This could be a significant development in international law, ensuring that EU citizens and businesses are not disadvantaged when litigating in virtual worlds.
The European Parliament's draft report serves as a comprehensive guide to the complex legal landscape of virtual worlds and the metaverse. It highlights the need for standardised definitions, ethical guidelines, robust legal frameworks and possibly new regulations. As the metaverse continues to evolve, these points will become increasingly important for lawmakers, businesses and users alike. The Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market discussed the draft report on 25 October 2023. It plans to decide on the draft and more than 130 proposed amendments on 27/28 November 2023 and the European Parliament Plenary on 15 January 2024.
30 October 2023
27 October 2023
by Multiple authors