Virtual Worlds and the EU

Virtual Worlds and the EU

I am about to return to Brussels for the final session of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on virtual worlds. I decided to make a document from my notes on the EU citizens panel on Virtual Worlds. As I have said, my notes were contemporaneous and do not tell a story. This article hopefully documents the lessons I have learned and would like others to read, and of course agree. Hopefully, it’s more directed!

The biggest question I have is around the framing of the questions to be considered. The Commission seem to use the terms, virtual world and metaverse as synonyms. They tried to offer a definition virtual worlds by referring to the reality-virtuality continuum, about which I was unnecessarily rude. There is no question in my mind that attempting to frame the questions as those stemming from a virtual world rather than the future of the Internet causes problems, not the least, being just how important is the 3D representation and metaphor and the use of avatars. NB the Renault example does not seem to have personal avatars and I question the utility of 3D representation as part of their problem-solving algorithm. Wikipedia offers  a limited definition , and perhaps this McKinsey article office more. I have made a note on definitions on my wiki. I am unclear how much publicly funded research has been done.

To my mind, the quality of the experts, and their ability to engage with the citizens is highly variable, with, in my opinion, several offering little and at least one not only offering little but what was offered being wrong.

On the other hand, in my opinion, also some of the quality of the citizen contributions is poor. On the whole they seem to find it difficult to imagine a future with a pervasive metaverse and what they can conceive, they don’t seem to want. To be honest, I find it difficult, beyond games to have an idea of what the metaverse has to offer. In my notes, I mentioned this, but note I need to guard against personal arrogance. The internet’s designers need to take account of these fears although both banks and entertainment have just about, left the real world.

One of the questions or axioms stated by the workgroup I observed is that the world needs an Internet built for human need not driven my profit. This implies the need for public investment and regulation of both the platform providers and software developers/owners.

CoFoE proposed higher fines, and the right of the Commission to prohibit companies from some or all of their activities.

The more I think about it, the more I am concerned that Fake News aka lying is not taken seriously. In the Anglosphere and in Germany, much of the press is owned by billionaires whose business model involves using the political power ownership of media organisations brings. Many balance the need for a duty of truth with the rights of freedom of expression. European citizen’s need to decide where that balance point lies because the effective answer in the Anglosphere is not good enough. The citizen’s assembly is not as engaged on this issue as CoFoE was.

The other issues on which citizen’s seem less interested are press and platform monopoly regulation and on the press it’s possible that the EU could learn from the UK’s Leveson report, although the Government unsurprisingly bottled the opportunity to transfer libel court costs to newspapers unless they agreed to sign-up to an approved standards body. Most of the UK press do not and the failure to implement a press regulator even after the scandal that led to Leveson show the entrenched power of these corporations.

The EU is busy passing a series of laws to regulate the digital economy. One of the problems they seek to remedy is that of computer crime. There is rightly much concern about cyber-bullying, child protection and pornography. However, we are starting from the point where the platforms have established rights as a carrier not as a publisher. The lawmakers’ response has been to develop a statutory “notify and take down” scheme, but this is very much to the advantage of large scale intellectual property owners and the large platform providers. We need a law the suits people, not companies.

The Commission is clear that privacy is at the centre of the goals of the regulation of the new digital society. The threats to citizen privacy comes from both private sector usually foreign owned, surveillance capitalism and the intelligence services. CoFoE has suggested both that GDPR fines are increased and that social media platforms should be licenced and that the withdrawal of a licence to operate should be a sanction available to the authorities.

There is also the need to review our copyright laws. Content publication is a supply chain, and our current laws do not favour the mass of creators. The value web is not going to be born with the current laws. The world needs a law that favours creation and not rent seeking. This means rebalancing the rights to make derived works against the default position of all rights reserved. Copyright longevity needs to be reviewed too. This has not really been raised at CoFoE or the citizens’ assembly but it’s a conclusion I have drawn from looking at what is needed.


In the document version, based on the articles in this blog, I made a document of my notes from the first two sessions of the Virtual Worlds citizens’ assembly. I added some foot notes.

  1. I made some rude comments about their use of the Reality/Virtuality continuum. In retrospect, something was required; it was needed to help define the metaverse and the focus of the assembly as something other than that of the future internet.
  2. I made some approving comments about the simplicity of the Commission’s bulleted statement of digital principles. Later in the month I found the full statement of the digital principles and I need to consider what I said, which was about the superiority of the short statement. On first review, the full statement which is longer, seems comprehensive and sufficiently technology neutral to be effective and to last.
  3. On review of the full text of the statement of principles, the right to digitally die is covered.
  4. On the shocked, shocked statement, which is a reference to Casablanca, I am suggesting that the professional moderators are taking guidance from the Commission and not the citizens.

Image Credit: European Parliament CC 2010 BY-NC-ND MEPs Voting …

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

On the second day of the EU’s citizens assembly on Virtual Worlds, I observed Working Group 6 which reconvened to further develop proposals aimed at informing the regulation and development of a digital Europe. The working group was directed to focus on the Commission’s digital principles, numbers four and five, “Fostering participation in the digital public space” & “Increasing safety, security and empowerment of individuals”. I wonder if the Commission’s short list of broad principles, is a better way of getting something on the table, rather than the detailed multi-point manifestoes that I have tried to build with others.

While the moderator tried to give the meeting some structure much of the meeting was very disjointed with citizen panel members saying what they wanted, which is their role, but rarely adding to what others say by improving or disagreeing. I believe the moderating team have created a summary to forward to the final plenary, if so they have done a better job than me.

This blog article is based on notes taken at the time, and while I have polished them and turned them into sentences, they do not tell really tell a coherent story but I hope that the combination of the wisdom of crowds and my comments, insights and lessons will be interesting

My notes and comments are below/overleaf; use the Read More button to see the full article.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day one.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day one.

The plenary sessions were set in a virtual world, which looked from the demo, very like 2nd life. Observers could not see or participate in this. I have a note but the ice breaker did not really work,  it was about engaging with virtual worlds, and my notes suggest that the delegates don’t know how to answer the question asked.  There were several technical problems on the video conference.

The moderators suggested that they broke the 1st plenary into four parts, inviting experts to answer questions generated by the syndicate working groups at the previous meetings. The topics were the economy, jobs & business, safety & security, health & well-being/the environment, and Society: Inclusiveness, Accessibility and Democracy.

The first speaker, Harman van Sprang, referenced the sharing economy. I wonder if this is npw an out of date concept as industrial music, and the DatenKraken have enclosed or sought to criminalise what was often published as free content. He also spoke in reply to a question that cities are the centre of innovation. He was brought to this conclusion after being approached by the city of Seoul and came to VR as a means modelling the future. See also, It seems that urban planning is an attractive application for virtual worlds, as Euractiv reports a few days later on how the City of Berlin is using such technology to simulate, test and prove urban designs.

Van Sprang also referred to web 3, which both, he & I categorise as a drive to own one’s own content, the road to Web 3 can be seen as a journey from content to conversation to value. The original web for most people was an act of consumption, Web 2.0 enabled citizen content publication, and Web 3 is seeking to enable ownership, which may allow authors to establish value. For this to be useful and democratic, we need to extend the definition of authorship and copyright laws need to strike the balance between ownership and the right or collective benefit of building derived works.

Eric Marchiol of Renault, forecast that virtual reality was useful for planning , modelling and logistics. Renault have modelled their factory and he showed a video describing the solution and its benefits. From what he showed us, I think the benefits come from a common data schema including all relevant objects which includes people in the plant. He showed an example of certain objects, in this case a drill, which before the project had multiple data descriptions and existed in each of many applications. However, what shook me is that he described that Renault had a real time monitoring system implemented inside their virtual world. I wonder whether the three-dimensional representation is necessary for this functionality. He also described the virtual world as useful for simulation. This of course requires the implementation of science and physics rules within the software to be sufficiently accurate. Marchiol also spoke of health and safety as a dimension of the security problem, which I found refreshing, given the obsession over ‘safety’ often interpreted as censorship, within the Commission materials. From this presentation, I can see that some are using VR as an effective planning and simulation tool, and other training applications are obvious.

Dr Mariette van Huijstee came back to talk and sought to answer one of the questions on digital identity and privacy. She provoked me into asking myself that since an un-forgeable proof of a digital identity is based on encryption, is it possible to install surveillance back doors while promising people the ability to prove their identity.  I say no. I think that asking this in the context of proving one’s identity makes the contradiction more acute.

Elisa Lirone, in my opinion, misunderstands the history of virtual reality. Facebook may,  by having bought Occulus Rift VR, the VR headset vendor and have renamed themselves as Meta to ideologically colonise the solution space but this ignores the 30 years of games development, the establishment of MMOs and the work of organisations like second life, who not only developed a virtual world, but permitted the users to own their own code and the rendered objects and this created markets for digital objects, as did some of the games. (Somewhere in this blog is an article on how people in low wage economies would grand games for might game artefacts and then sell them for real money. It’s dated 2004! Doom was launched in 1993.)

It’s clear that I believe that 3D virtual worlds will have a limited application, but they were not invented or developed by the social media giants.

I again will need to review the stream, You will be able to find the links on this website after the session : Virtual worlds panel (

This was written from contemporaneous notes, but I have taken some time to polish them and have added the notes about the Euractiv article and Berlin’s planning applications; I have backdated this to the day of occurrence. …

Virtual Worlds, Day 3.

On day three of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds, after a short meeting in groups, we reassembled in the plenary hall. We were introduced to a speaker panel, which they referred to as a knowledge committee which included three Belgian improv artists. The whole session is available at for review on the Commission’s streaming platform. In my article overleaf, I catalogue the EU’s definition of people’s rights and principles, briefly look at the regulatory aquis, and briefly introduce the key members of the panel of experts. I criticise the lack of emphasis on privacy & anti-fake news, and the absence of any talk of investment policies. I end by asking how the topic was chosen and if it is in fact of real relevance for tomorrow? to read the full article, please use the "Read More" button ...

Beyond Concalls

I have been looking at ways of making virtual meetings easier, more effective and fun. As part of that I have looked again at secondlife, and one of my new correspondents pointed me at “The future is virtually here”. This, despite being published last August, and while containing two fun stories about EVE Online, tries too hard in my mind to use language which proves the author’s Yoof credentials. Also quoting IBM and World of Warcraft as the exemplar’s of using virtual worlds is, to my mind lazy. Many (or was it several) companies use secondlife as a virtual store front, although I admit that IBM’s virtual data centre, (see also my blog report on the IBM virtual data center) is a quite a cute toy, but a number of people are on the trail of WoW, and its monthly subscription is high for school students. The killer app. for virtual worlds seems to be training.  …

Outside the box

I have just finished writing up my last two weeks work, and thought you might enjoy this video showing what might happen if a virtual world knew where you were looking. This article hosts a youtube clip, and there are probably better ways of flagging this as interesting for others. …

Future of the Internet

In March, I attended the EU’s “Future of the Internet” conference. This was a meeting of Europe’s top computer scientists from both business and academia, planned to discuss future research and development. The meeting was jointly convened by the rotating Presidency (the Government of Slovenia) and the Commission, and held at Lake Bled. I attended a number of sessions dealing with technical, societal and economic issues together with the state of research in the European Union.  The original articles were written from notes taken at the time, posted the following week and back dated to the approximate time the speech was given; they were copied across to this ominbus blog in July 2016. It is now, really quite long. The sessions included, Dr Ziga Turk, who spoke of enlargement and the 5th freedom, Dutton on Privacy, Trust and economies of scale, Wyckoff Lovink, Johansen , Vasconcelos in a panel on economics and Heuser, Grégoire, Uddenfeldt , Nathan , Hourcade on the development of technology in Europe, and speakers from the US and Japan. …

MMORPG, making them massive

On my return from Hong Kong, I wrote a piece on Virtual Worlds, customising Open Source (or more accurately partially permissive) licences and a note on welfare economics and free software, originally published on my sun/oracle blog. I have republished it here as at the original date in July 2016. I have repaired (or deleted) the links, particularly for Project Wonderland, which I am pleased to see survived. The article starts by reflecting on Sun’s Project Darkstar, which was designed as a MMORPG platform. …

NESSI AGM (2007)

I have visited Brussels twice on NESSI business and on holiday with Mrs. L. These trips were originally blogged on my sun/oracle blog as series of article, I have brought the articles across here, and presented them as two articles, This article chronicles the NESSI AGM. I wrote about NESSI last time I visited Brussels in November, but it is having its AGM over the next two days.  …