A close up of a vr headset.
Image: James Yarema - Unsplash

A new report from the University of Cambridge warns that it is vital regulators address XR technologies now.

The proponents of the UK’s Online Safety Bill push for the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online. However, the metaverse will challenge any such claim.

In our latest report, researchers warn that it is vital that regulators be proactive in addressing XR technologies now, rather than waiting for these harms to affect users en masse.

Report author, Shannon Pierson said: ‘My report explains that policymakers cannot allow XR companies to abdicate responsibility for the harms playing out on their platforms, which are largely inhabited by children.’

‘The Online Safety Bill must be amended for it to be fully applicable to Web 3.0 metaverse technologies.’

The report provides an assessment of possible harms in the metaverse, and suggests policy recommendations to mitigate them. It focuses on the governance, biometric data privacy, and cybersecurity obstacles in XR technology today in order to signal what problems lie ahead for a fully realised metaverse.

Key findings:

Metaverse Platform Governance

– Platforms’ moderation tools do not sufficiently protect users — particularly children and marginalised groups — from harms that are pervasive in Social VR.

– Social VR platforms fail to enforce age restrictions and ensure safe, age-appropriate spaces for children separated from adults. Children can face uncensored bullying, sexist and racist hate speech, simulated sexual interactions, and sexual harassment.

– Generative AI will transform content creation in the metaverse and make it easier for bad actors to generate immersive misinformation at scale, create experiences that harm, and put people at risk.

Biometric Data

– Involuntary biometric responses tracked by XR devices can divulge sensitive personal information, including data that can indicate medical conditions, sexual orientation, and identity.

Cybersecurity Risks

– Cybercriminals have begun exploiting the metaverse’s unregulated and unmonitored non-fungible token (NFT) market to profit from investment fraud scams, money laundering schemes, and the exchange of illicit materials.

– XR devices share many of the same cybersecurity vulnerabilities that other consumer-grade devices, including IoT devices, have and may require better authentication mechanisms and stronger encryption.