Britain will seek to regulate the rise of the metaverse popularised by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook under its flagship Online Safety Bill, the UK’s digital minister has confirmed.
Facebook, which rebranded as Meta in November, and dozens of other companies have claimed that breakthroughs in virtual reality mean that a seamless blending of the virtual world and the real world is just years away.
Chris Philp, the UK’s digital minister, said metaverse companies would fall under its plans to tackle online harms and bring regulation to Big Tech firms.
He said: “One of the reasons we need the Online Safety Bill is that Facebook, or Meta now, have not historically been doing enough to take care of their users or police the environments they operate in.”
Asked if the new laws would also apply to the coming of the so-called “metaverse”, Mr Philp said: “Yes, if something is illegal in law in general it should not be allowed to happen online either. That is a clear principle.”
The Online Safety Bill will apply to social media and internet companies, hitting them with fines worth potentially billions of pounds for failing to stop illegal posts or videos spreading online. It will also censure them for failing to protect children from extreme or illegal posts, and require them to ensure their websites are effectively moderated of “harmful content”.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook and chief executive of Meta, has claimed that online experiences will get more lifelike as virtual reality, online gaming, cryptocurrencies and futuristic technologies such as haptics and neural interfaces combine.
The experience has been compared to the virtual worlds of Ready Player One. Users will be able to wear a virtual reality headset or an augmented reality eyepiece and visit virtual worlds or interact with friends.
However, there are fears this expanded online world will leave people open to new kinds of societal harms.
One user of Facebook’s virtual reality app Horizon Worlds claimed that they were “groped” online during testing for the service. Meta has acknowledged the incident.
Meta said of the incident: “We will continue to improve our UI and to better understand how people use our tools so that users are able to report things easily and reliably.”
Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister who serves as Facebook’s head of public policy, has said the company is “committed to working with experts in government, industry and academia to think through issues and opportunities to ensure it is inclusive, interoperable and empowering”.