MEPs want the EU to assume a leading role in shaping virtual worlds that respect and promote EU values and fundamental rights, while ensuring the highest level of consumer protection.
On Tuesday, MEPs from the Internal Market and Consumer Protection adopted a draft own-initiative report on the opportunities, risks and policy implications of virtual worlds for the single market, with 31 votes in favour, 2 against and 8 abstentions.
Consistency with Existing Digital Rules
The Commission strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds defines virtual worlds as persistent, immersive environments based on 3D and extended reality (XR) technologies. Although the communication does not yet propose specific legislative measures, MEPs urge the Commission to regularly assess the adequacy of existing digital rules and to present new legislation as needed.
EU Should Lead the Way
Currently, virtual worlds are developed by a few companies based outside the EU, which have the necessary resources and financial capabilities. MEPs emphasise that EU should take a leading role in the development of virtual words that respect and promote EU values, fundamental rights and the highest standards of consumer protection. They call for fostering a level playing field to bolster European businesses, creating a suitable policy framework, engaging in international dialogues with like-minded third countries and promoting awareness among citizens regarding the responsible use of these technologies.
Opportunities and Risks
MEPs recognise the opportunities virtual worlds can offer for the economy, employment and education, and emphasise the importance of investing in infrastructure, research, innovation and skills.
On the other hand, they highlight concerns about potential health issues resulting from interaction with these technologies, such as addiction, cyber sickness, sleep, and their impact on children’s cognitive development. MEPs also express worries related to sensitive data processing, intellectual property rights, cyber violence, financial fraud and environmental impact.
The draft report advocates for the implementation of safe design, parental control measures, information campaigns, fostering digital literacy and further research on associated risks. The text also emphasises the importance of ensuring open, inclusive, and accessible virtual worlds, to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities.
Rapporteur Pablo Arias Echeverría (EPP, ES) said: “Europe cannot afford to lag behind in the next digital revolution nor can we repeat past mistakes. As we step into Web 4.0 with the development of virtual worlds, we have to lay a foundation, rooted in strong EU digital rules, guiding principles and values. Europe has to lead this transition, placing citizens at the heart of our digital future!”
Virtual words (also referred to metaverses) are expected to have a significant impact on people’s lives, bringing both opportunities and risks that need to be addressed. They offer real-time, immersive and persistent environments that blend physical and virtual elements in various areas like manufacturing, medicine, education, entertainment, commerce, and the public and military sectors.
On 11 July 2023, the Commission presented a strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds to steer the next technological transition and ensure an open and secure digital environment for EU citizens, businesses and public administration.