On the second day, I observed Working Group 6 which reconvened. The working group was directed to focus on the Commission’s principles, numbers four and five, “Fostering participation in the digital public space” & “Increasing safety, security and empowerment of individuals”. 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 wonder if the Commission principles for Digital Rights supersedes the Council of Europe’s seven principles. Probably not, as they have been written into the GDPR. The COE principles are Lawfulness, fairness and transparency, Purpose limitation, Data minimisation, Accuracy, Storage limitation, Integrity and confidentiality (security) and Accountability. I also 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 manifestos that I have tried to build with others.

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 a coherent story. I believe the moderating team have created a summary to forward to the final plenary; they have done a better job than me.

The constant use of the words Metaverse, or virtual worlds and Elisa Lirone’s contribution yesterday, [or on Medium] led me to have a quick look at what was meant by Metaverse. Sprout social have a useful 6 property definition. The Metaverse is always active, operates in real time, users have agency, exists as its own world, enables user generated content, and can be accessed and run across multiple platforms.

The first contribution stated that safety what’s the primary requirement. this proposal was modified by others who argued that inclusion was equally important and that no one should be left behind, either on the grounds of age or education.

This desire for safety was reiterated by several members, several of whom had bad personal experiences such as the story of a bank account being hacked and someone the target of phishing attack allegedly signed by a dead relative. People’s reaction to their experiences is that ‘something must be done’.  This is a lesson for me, there is a real fear of becoming the victims of digital crime.

Another member of the group raised the contradiction between control and privacy. suson made the points that we can’t rely on the social media companies, implying too much is relied on them. This lack of trust extends to both the design process, where the goal of the private sector is profit maximisation. Europe’s citizens require something with broader design goals. It disappointed me that no-one is highlighting fake news or foreign or plutocratic interference with elections.

This fear and pessimism led to the group agreeing, that there must be an effective choice not to use a virtual world; this is particularly so in the sphere of banking and public administration. A further point on usability was made that “consent” collections are too complicated and are often unread even if agreed.

There is a fear that cash is disappearing which reminded me of the piece from Gibson’s “Count Zero”. When his protagonist enters a shop and seeks to pay in cash, he comments to himself, that cash isn’t exactly illegal, but it does draw unwanted attention. In the book, it was being used because of its anonymity as the protagonist did not wish to be traced. It interests me that in the days following the meeting, I came across the issue of the UK’s potential adoption of a Central Bank Digital Currency, which starts from a slightly different place but makes a big distinction between cash and digital money, although in the banker’s case they draw a distinction between who the book keeper is, a commercial or central bank. There are people worried about the digitisation of money.

The meeting spent, what I considered to be an extraordinary amount of time considering what happens in the virtual world on the death of the real world person; what happens to digital assets of the newly deceased and their electronic records. This is complicated and quite interesting. Surely, we would want to treat assets such as email records, shared drives, and their virtual world equivalents, such as 2nd Life rooms or electronic photograph albums. Many of these items will be hosted by private companies who will be charging rent. I think we know what will happen when the rent stops being paid, and it can cause significant difficulty to the executors of an estate if they can’t get access to the records. This must be an area for legislation, we know for instance that, in the UK, banks and local authorities are made to co-operate with the executors of wills; why not email & cloud storage providers. I am of the view that these electronic artefacts should be treated as property, but the louder volume in the room was that the right to digitally die should be available.

The moderator, summed up, the morning session as follows, there are three core values for desirable & fair European virtual worlds.

  1. It must be safe for children, this involves awareness, education and possibly age limits, as there are for games.
  2. Security and safety needs to be accessible to all. This means they need to be understandable and not time consuming. Today, too often, things are agreed because they are not understood because it takes too much time to learn, to read and understand, often by design.
  3. We need to insure anonymity for citizens i.e. for people. But companies, institutions, and organisations, have to be identifiable and verified for the safety of the citizens and users. 

In order to be safe, the EU’s rules must be extra-territorial, as is the GDPR.

Much of what was discussed, raises the question of content control. This is a difficult problem to solve, if it’s possible to solve; it cannot be left to the DatenKraken, or traditional media corporations.

On our return from lunch, we were presented with the outcomes from working group 9. It disappointed me how they came with recommendations on food waste and training and education, the two other issues on which the Commission have convened the citizens assemblies to discuss. I’m shocked shocked I tell you. The recommendations can be summarised as,

  1. early age schooling on Virtual Words
  2. free online training to include ethics
  3. improved waste management for IT assets, does this involve a revision of WEEED.
  4. Using virtual reality to educate on climate change

The issue of disappearing banks was raised again. The digitisation of money is an obvious harbinger of computerisation of pour lives but I am prompted by their talk of bank queues, which reminded me of some of the improvement in my life, for instance, when my barber, reopened after the pandemic, they had moved their queue online and eliminated the need to queue in their shop.

Cyrpto currencies were discussed and identified as a massive waste of resources, the proof of work is expensive in terms of power, but also the miners race each other. Some of them will lose, and thus all their power used to calculate half an answer is wasted. The modern day cost of IT, includes both the power required to run and  cool them, together with the rare metals required to build them, although at least they are recyclable.

A couple of proposals were made,

  1. It was the proposal that the EU build a satellite network to carry Internet traffic, this came from citizens of some countries with lower coverage areas where some remote locations do not get an appropriate strength signal.
  2. The right to disconnect was raised, together with right not to engage, and thus a duty, for universal providers to continue to offer real world solutions.
  3. It was, finally, suggested that the institutions study the way which totalitarian societies are using the Internet as a means of control in order to develop defences against this. One correspondent was clear that the threats came from both abroad and at home.
  4. There was a call for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be treated as a basic law. The speaker was obviously unaware that it is.
  5. It was controversially suggested that the EU try and create a European Silicon Valley as a growth focus. Others suggested this would fail for two reasons. The first being, not the US software industry exists in many locations other than in California. For instance, Microsoft are in Seattle and a lot of IT companies all located between Boston and Atlanta. It seems counter intuitive to me that a growth cluster focused on the virtual world requires a physical urban campus. The second reason is that member state competition would inhibit this aspiration.  
  6. The need for public sector platform was stated, profit is not enough to guarantee a fair and safe Internet or virtual world. I ask myself, what happens to “Code is Law” in a world where the metaverse is written and motivated by the private sector?

It was suggested that regulation may need to be done in conjunction with the USA. This would mean either a bilateral treaty or engagement in a global treaty. History has shown though, the United States is a formidable and patriotic trade negotiator. Any negotiations would be very tough, and it would be best if the EU knew what it wanted. It would also be necessary to ensure that Europe’s leadership on privacy rights was maintained, and the EU should evaluate if the US’s exporting of its intellectual property laws is actually in the best interests of EU citizens and companies.

The low level of innovation and imagination within the working group, and the low levels of expertise make me ask myself, what is it that makes citizens assemblies work. I think it is where citizens have an expertise based on being rooted in a community of some kind, and where the wisdom of crowds can be represented by the panel members and can be leveraged for good decision-making.

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

One thought on “Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: