German Bundestag – Metaverse: Between great opportunities and hype

Metaverse: Between great opportunities and hype

Digital/Hearing – 15.12.2022 (hib 754/2022)

Berlin: (hib/LBR) What is the metaverse and how to manage this new digital space? The Digital Committee addressed this in a public hearing on Wednesday. Invited experts assessed the opportunities and risks of the so-called Web 3.0 and the Metaverse of the Facebook group Meta very differently – while some pointed to the potential, the majority spoke of a “hype” driven by fear of missing out. the tick.

Web 3.0, also known as the Semantic Web, and the Metaverse refer to ideas about what the future of our digital presence should look like. The vision of a decentralized Internet in which blockchain technology is central is associated with Web3. The Metaverse is intended to represent a digital alternative to the physical world – a kind of 3D internet successor, which should be accessible using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

Malte Engeler, judge at the Administrative Court of Schleswig-Holstein, pointed out that a blockchain-based and property-laden Web3 comes up against fundamental legal, fundamental and data protection issues. He advocated taking decisive action against the technological and legal establishment, like in a metaverse. From his point of view, a central point of criticism is the introduction of the category “property”, for example in relation to personal data. In this context, Engeler also mentioned the constitutionally recognized purpose of the right to be forgotten, which is incompatible with blockchain technology, since entries can only be added but not deleted.

Jürgen Geuter (Art+Com and Réseau Autre), who spoke of “hypercapitalist structures” in the context of the subject, was also very critical. Blockchains have been talked about for 14 years and yet the proponents have nothing to show for themselves. The internet “deserves more seriousness,” Geuter said. The digital space must be defended and designed, the existing regulations must be applied and the participatory Internet must be promoted, he considered, also with regard to consumer protection, which was falling into disuse with the Web3.

Software developer Lilith Wittmann also had concerns. She said Web 3.0 is an idea of ​​linking data in a machine-readable way and making open data usable for everyone. Linked open data is a concept that has potential for government, business and society. Blockchain, on the other hand, harbors a long list of risks, especially in combination with personal data. For example, the output of personal data cannot be reversed. She pointed to the manageable benefits of blockchain projects and criticized Germany’s significant investment in them “due to innovation”. The social effects of technology are not or not sufficiently taken into account.

Boris Hollas of HTW Dresden pointed out that there are many hopes and expectations associated with Web3, including a “better and fairer” Internet. However, it is unclear how this should work technically. Blockchain technology requires a lot of storage space, bandwidth and computing power, because all data is stored in the blockchain, which is particularly problematic for mobile use. “Blockchain is extremely unsuitable for the global internet,” Hollas said when it comes to scalability, and it works well for small amounts of data.

On the other hand, Sebastian Klöß (AR/VR & Metaverse, Bitkom eV) stressed that current developments should not be stifled by excessive concern. We are currently where the internet was in the late 1990s: very few would have imagined using smartphones the way they do today, Klöß said. The possible applications and the potential of the Metaverse are enormous, also in view of Metaverse in the industrial sector. Web3 and Metaverse set their own priorities and provide great opportunities for users to own, control and monetize content, Klöß said. According to a Bitkom study, however, only 6% of companies have ever dealt with the subject of the metaverse.

Philipp A. Rauschnabel from the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich also stressed the need to increase visibility. He called for more research on this. Unlike Web3 and processes running in the background, the Metaverse will visibly modify processes, Rauschnabel said. For the foreseeable future, however, the old internet will not be replaced, but rather the existing one will be extended or supplemented, he said. We’re used to interacting in three-dimensional space, so users will “dive” more than “surf” the Metaverse because you’re part of it, he predicted. It is still unclear how the business models would be adapted.

Elizabeth Renieris (Hackylawyer, Oxford Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence) said there is a risk that the commercial exploitation of individuals will be exacerbated by digital interactions such as smart contracts. In their view, legislators and policy makers should try to shift the burden of demonstrating and demonstrating clear benefits to proponents. Renieris also spoke about the need for barrier-free design of virtual spaces to promote inclusion and accessibility.

Journalist Ludwig Siegele (The Economist) spoke in the Metaverse about a “buzzword” that had migrated across the Atlantic and warned against taking Meta’s plans too seriously – at the same time, there was no debate in Germany about how the digital economy of the future should look like, he pointed out. Basically, it is becoming evident that a new economic space is emerging and gaining in importance. In order to uphold European values, solutions need to be found that represent a “third” way and where blockchain can help, Siegele said.

Expert Molly White (Library Innovation Lab Harvard University) also touched on the promise of blockchain’s great potential and issues around the concept of owning your own data. User data stored in a blockchain will be accessible to even more marketing firms and data analytics firms, she said. The distribution of power in blockchain projects remains extremely centralized. Regarding the crypto industry, which has positioned itself against regulation and consumer protection measures, White said that the absence of regulation has been shown to mainly lead to innovations in areas of fraud and theft.

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