EU wants to avoid metaverse monopolies

Tech

The European Commission has become the latest willing drinker of Zuckerberg et-al’s metaverse Kool-Aid.

Thierry Breton, commissioner responsible for the internal market, has been sufficiently convinced of this virtual world’s self-professed credibility that he wants to design and implement a regulatory framework that will curb big tech’s inherently monopolistic ambitions towards it. Even though it doesn’t exist and no one is going to use it.

“Metaverse – a new form of virtual space – is springing everywhere,” he wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

“Actually, not one but many metaverses are being developed, as a new generation of digital platforms offers possibilities for people to interact in completely innovative ways,” he continued. “Not only for entertainment purposes, but also to work together, develop artistic creativity, do real-life simulations aimed at medical interventions, cultural preservation, environmental protection or disaster prevention and a lot more.”

With his highly-questionable central premise in place, Breton proceeded to emphasise the need for competing yet interoperable metaverse platforms that embody European values and guarantee the safety of anyone who uses it.

“Private metaverses should develop based on interoperable standards and no single private player should hold the key to the public square or set its terms and conditions. Innovators and technologies should be allowed to thrive unhindered,” he said.

“We will not witness a new Wild West or new private monopolies,” he added.

Breton also wants EU policies to encourage the continued health and development of the ecosystem that will underpin the metaverse. This covers things like photonics and semiconductors, but also software, middleware, and content – specifically mixed reality (XR).

Then of course there are the networks that will carry all this metaverse content. Breton reiterated comments he made earlier this week that suggested tech giants might one day have to contribute to the cost of the networks upon which their businesses depend.

“The current situation, exacerbated during the Covid pandemic, shows a paradox of increasing volumes of data being carried on the infrastructures but decreasing revenues and appetite to invest to strengthen them and make them resilient,” he said on Wednesday. “In Europe, all market players benefiting from the digital transformation should make a fair and proportionate contribution to public goods, services and infrastructures, for the benefit of all Europeans.”

Breton said the Commission will launch “a comprehensive reflection and consultation on the vision and business model of the infrastructure that we need” to enable the metaverse.

Breton needn’t be too concerned about regulating the metaverse though, because the metaverse is complete and utter nonsense and will not last. And anyone who says otherwise already has too much skin in the game to back down. Beyond ‘marketing gimmick’, there is no logical argument for replacing the tools and interfaces we use to experience the Internet today with tools and interfaces that are harder for people to manipulate, that come with more demanding hardware requirements and therefore cost, and require a larger physical space in which to be used.

It was also tried once before. It was called Second Life, and for a few years it was the future of the Internet. That is until the novelty wore off and people went back to using the Internet the regular way. Second Life still exists, incidentally, but its degree of relevance to how people interact online today can be measured in Plancks. Meanwhile, feature-rich online interactions already exist. They are called videogames, and they are much more fun than chatting to a dead-eyed avatar that wants to sell you a current account or a mobile phone contract.

If any single entity ends up with a monopoly position in the metaverse, it will be because everyone else has long since left it behind.

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