Response to European Commission’s call for evidence on “virtual worlds”

May 3, 2023

Open Future submitted a response concerning the European Commission’s call for evidence on “An EU initiative on virtual worlds: a head start towards the next technological transition.” In the submission, we showed why policymakers should consider virtual worlds as Digital Public Spaces where the public interest precedes corporate objectives.

In the upcoming months, significant corporate pressure will likely be on policy debates about the virtual worlds as European policymakers begin to shape Europe’s policy in this area. Currently, there are attempts to define virtual worlds solely about specific technologies, such as virtual reality technologies. In contrast, we propose an approach that focuses on securing universal principles and is not limited to any particular technology. This approach aims to promote a public interest-driven development of virtual ecosystems without determining whether they will be based on VR, AR, or expanded gaming environments.

In our submission, we make three recommendations. First, policies on virtual worlds need to adhere to universal principles and open standards — it is vital to avoid hype and maintain a grounded approach to developing virtual worlds. EU initiative should prioritize the broader context of established regulations, including platform regulation and interoperability, rather than attempting to frame the metaverse as an emergent breakthrough labeled “web4.0”.

Second, virtual worlds should be governed as digital commons. Virtual worlds — no matter what their final shape and technological underpinnings are — will be data-driven environments. For this reason, proper data governance will be crucial. It is also imperative that virtual worlds are not subject to rigid legal frameworks that reconstitute outdated concepts of ownership and control. Instead, proper governance models ensure fair value distribution will become the primary challenge that policies must address.

Finally, to effectively limit Big Tech’s power and ensure that regulatory interventions succeed in creating a European digital space, a unified European approach is necessary to fund and enable its growth. The strategy should include dedicated funding for Public Digital Infrastructure, ensuring virtual ecosystems do not rely on private and commercial services and platforms.

Zuzanna Warso
Alek Tarkowski
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