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Environment, crime, terrorism… what are the dangers of the metaverse and how can they be contained?



Deciphering the Metaverse, episode 3. Who says that a parallel universe is talking about a parallel economy: the metaverse does not escape this logic, and if its development can bring many opportunities and commendable innovations, it should also be a theater of darker challenges, as evidenced by the beginning of this decentralized platforms.

Donce the topic of the metaverse has been brought up for discussion, two discourses prevail: an enthusiastic discourse open to the potential of these new technologies, and a skeptical, even pessimistic discourse. We are roughly repeating the great debate that we witnessed with the advent of the Internet, Web 1.0 in the 90s, then the advent of Web 2.0 or the social network.

The first risk, which is of least concern when needed given the climate emergency, is the environmental impact of these new technologies. According to Nolwenn Germain, CEO of Haido and an expert in technology and innovation, “What is in danger of becoming very energy intensive in the metaverse, as well as in the digital world, are data centers. But especially 3D modeling: 3D representation of an avatar will require a lot of energy and time, and the computer power needed to achieve this will be very important.”

Simply converting goods to NFTs can also be very expensive: “It takes about 800 kilowatt-hours to create an NFT (create it on the blockchain, editor’s note). You drive about 3,000 km in a Tesla every time you do an NFT,” explains Pierre Paperon, co-founder of the France Meta association, who, faced with a lack of interest in energy ethics, began training large CAC 40 companies to explain to them how to reduce their ecological footprint.

Black market, crime, juvenile delinquency: the other side of the parallel economy

Any new form of economy gives rise to its illegal counterpart, the parallel economy: this is the second risk associated with the technologies that support these metaverses. A risk that is all the more difficult to contain because of the very essence of these metaverses, namely decentralization: “You have large central banks whose role is to regulate, but which have remained without work. In fact, cryptocurrencies are regulated more and more with big movements: some countries ban them, others promote them. We also must not forget that cryptocurrencies are also used for the entire black market,” says Nolwenn Germain.

If we continue this dive into the murky waters of the metaverse, we will also come across all the offenses that can be committed in the virtual universe (harassment, NFT theft, child crime, etc.) or that have already been committed: we count 3 sexual assaults through avatars in the metaverse. According to Pierre Paperon, limitations related to the supervision of some offenses already exist for Web 2.0, such as insufficient moderation or the problem of avatar identification: “The problem with the avatar metaverse is that there will be no possibility of direct identity verification. There is no way to take action to protect the avatar or be sure that the avatar is not a child delinquent.”

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Cyber ​​warfare, geostrategy, terrorism: a geopolitical issue

If we zoom out, we can identify the last danger on a global scale: geopolitical risk. Can war start in the Metaverse? “Perhaps,” Pierre Paperon replies. Will an agreement made between two political leaders in the metaverse be effective in the real world? “Perhaps if it is registered on the blockchain and enforceable in any jurisdiction,” he explains in all seriousness. If these hypotheses seem surreal to us, they are nonetheless scenarios studied with the utmost care by the authorities: “There is a field of research and attention that the military is giving to the metaverse, which is very developed, very sharp. The stakes of cyber and geostrategy will be significant, especially since there may be trading, over-the-counter trading, we can exchange NFTs, so there will be places for drugs, for porn…” The interest he himself felt when he was approached by the greatest military luminaries – DGSE, DGSI, DRM (Office of Military Intelligence), the Élysée Palace and the National Gendarmerie – to help them understand how the blockchain could be used by the Terrorist Branch.

Regulation as a solution?

So the question of regulation arises. Not only in substance (how to distinguish private from public? Will we be held accountable for our actions in these virtual universes?), but also in form (how to criminalize these hybrid platforms? How to adapt the law?). During a recent Webedia conference on the metaverse, Jean-Maxence Granier, founder of Think Out, a firm that supports brands and media in the digital transition, recalled that “there is a very close relationship between space and law. there is a notion of a boundary or distinction between public and private. The metaverse is a topology: it is a virtual space, but it is a space.” Therefore, space, which must more or less obey the same laws as reality, because “it is not because we create representations of universes, we must deeply rethink the law,” emphasizes Pierre Paperon.

Faced with cases of attacks that have already taken place in the metaverse, several initiatives have been taken to protect users: Meta offers a “safe zone” where you can teleport your avatar in case of danger, buttons to block or report other faces, or a “private zone” function. borders, which prevents approaching less than a meter, according to Les Echos. There have also been experiments with self-regulatory systems, such as the Tribunal opened in League of Legends in 2011, which allowed players to decide among themselves about reporting cases. Whether they are solutions to prevent harmful behavior or fairness among themselves, these draft answers seem inconclusive at this stage. “The world of law always lags behind the world of innovation,” concludes Germain Nolwenn.

To read the rest of our investigation, see you next Thursday!

Read the previous transcript: Business: why are brands and artists rushing into the metaverse?

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