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China Mobile proposes metaverse regulation, triggers critics for privacy concerns

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After submitting fresh proposals to a United Nations (UN) group focusing on a digital identity system, China now wants to set the standard for a global metaverse regulatory framework.

The recommendations stem from state-owned telecommunications firm China Mobile and revolve around the use of digital IDs “to keep the order and safety of the virtual world,” Politico has reported. China Mobile submits that digital IDs should contain the necessary information, including the occupation of users and other “identifiable signs.”

The proposals suggest that with these identifiable markers on metaverse users, law enforcement agencies will be able to arrest users in the real world for spreading misinformation and breaching other rules.

China’s proposals bear striking similarities with its social credit system, which operates as a scorecard for the trustworthiness of citizens. Although the social credit system is yet to see action on a national scale, several local and municipal governments have used the system as a basis to blacklist specific individuals from accessing certain public utilities.

“To build a unified digital identity system, to give each human a unique digital ID that includes social characteristics from social media and occupation – that sounds a lot like China’s social credit system,” Chris Kremidas-Courtney, a Belgium-based Friends of Europe senior fellow, said.

Critics have poked holes in China’s metaverse proposals on the grounds of concerns of privacy violations and an attempt to push their standards on the rest of the world. China has been pushing for uniform global rules for metaverse regulation with regular interfaces with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a UN agency.

Experts say China is nursing ambitions to be the global metaverse leader and is “trying to play the long game” by courting global regulators. Industry stakeholders in the U.S. and Europe have criticized China for attempting to interfere with the operations of the ITU in recent years.

“The ITU is the [standardization] body that China has done the most damage to,” Matt Sheehan, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace fellow, stated. “Chinese actors flood it with bad proposals, often because they get government subsidies for filing them.”

China’s steamy affair with virtual worlds

Many Chinese provinces have launched blueprints to wade into the metaverse after the nationwide crackdown on digital currencies and their service providers.

Nanjing, Beijing, and Shanghai are among an exclusive list of cities with metaverse ambitions. A core theme in their plans is attracting leading global metaverse firms to set up operations in their regions to grow their local industries.

China Mobile unveiled a metaverse alliance in June to streamline private-led efforts into virtual worlds, with state-backed Henan Cultural Tourism Investment Group pledging to launch a $22 million fund.

Watch: Metaverse is going to change the world as we know it: Dereck Hoogenkamp

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