Mains Marks Booster     3rd August 2023        
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Topic: Ethics of Metaverse     

Quote: It is said- ‘In the digital realm, code dictates life’. The time has come when life should dictate the code

Metaverse is a combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video where users "live" within a digitally enhanced surrounding.

Context: Recently, In Tamil Nadu a couple hosted India’s first wedding reception in Metaverse. The bride’s father had passed away but attended and blessed the couple in a digital avatar at the wedding. 

Ethical issues related to Metaverse:

  • Biometric data and privacy: Virtual and augmented reality devices are set to provide users with access to the metaverse but will track brain wave patterns and deduct user thought processes. 
  • Protecting the vulnerable: The vulnerable section, i.e., children, senior citizens and digitally unaware among others are more vulnerable to influences of the metaverse environment. 
    • Ex. hyper-reality experiences could trigger a sensory overload and induce fits or seizures in users who have a disorder like epilepsy. 
  • Toxicity: Platforms like metaverse have become a breeding ground for toxicity, bullies and hate speech. People vocalise opinions that they would never express in real life.
  • Issues of inequality in the tech industry: The prevalence of metaverse could create further divide due to economic capacity, urban-rural gaps etc. 
  • Lack of Decentralisation: A centralised metaverse which is governed, owned, and operated by tech giants then the problems such as data privacy, thefts, manipulations, and conditioning to favour some and not to favour some, will come to rise.
  • Misuse and unfair ownership of data: In a seamless environment such as metaverse, it would be difficult to implement the current consent-based permission structure for private data resulting in muddled ownership of data and increased vulnerability to misuse.
  • Translation of Laws and Rights from Real to Digital space: In the absence of a regulatory framework in the form of laws or a constitution, it is difficult to understand what are the Rights that will be protected and how will they be protected. 
  • Psychological issues with multiple Identities: Metaverse would enable the individual to create a digital identity without the pushes and pulls of the society and the situation one is born in. 
    • This could create more identification with the digital identity leading to issues like self-pity and dissatisfaction with oneself in reality. 

Way Forward:

  • Regulatory frameworks and awareness: Preventing cyberbullying and sexual harassment and ensuring inclusivity through community guidelines and privacy protections. Projects involving children or other vulnerable populations should be given special consideration. 
  • Consumer centric approach: All aspects of Metaverse to be examined thoroughly which affects the life of the consumer legally, personally, socially and emotionally.
  • Decentralisation: A democratised platform by all and for all will provide an environment of transparent and safe digital space.
  • Transparency in Data Collection: Ensuring that privacy policies specifically mention Metaverse data and how that data will be used, shared, and protected.
  • Tackling inequality in the tech industry: For the metaverse to be inclusive, digital divide to be bridged by reducing existing inequalities and creating digital environments where everyone can belong.
  • Secure the experience: Use the best security protocols and protection to ensure that malicious actors cannot alter or harm users while they are in the VR experience. o For example, a community member might get voted off the island if enough token holders think someone is not operating in a way that adheres to the community guidelines. 

Conclusion: In this dynamically evolving domain, to ensure that these principles are incorporated in both letter and spirit, the platform, developers and users will have to innovate continuously and proactively.