In a bold move that has ignited discussions around the globe, China is considering the expansion of its real-world social credit system into the realm of virtual online worlds and metaverses.
The controversial proposal, titled “Digital Identity System,” has been crafted by the state-owned telecom giant China Mobile and reviewed by experts—raising concerns among digital privacy advocates.
Under the proposed system, each individual using a virtual online platform or metaverse would be assigned a unique digital ID. This ID would encompass a spectrum of “identifiable signs, natural characteristics, social characteristics,” and personal details, forming a comprehensive profile of the user.
Such information would be stored indefinitely under the proposal and made accessible to law enforcement agencies, facilitating rapid response to instances of misconduct within these virtual domains.
A pertinent example is outlined in the proposal, illustrating how the system could function in practice.
The example imagines that a user named Tom has engaged in disruptive behaviour within the metaverse. With the digital ID in place, Tom’s actions could be swiftly identified and appropriate measures taken against him, effectively regulating behaviour within the virtual space.
This initiative might seem reminiscent of China’s infamous social credit system, operational in the physical world.
Enforced nationwide, the dystopian system evaluates the trustworthiness of individuals, businesses, and governmental entities based on their behaviour and actions. While various iterations of this system are currently in use within China, plans for a unified national version are underway.
The proposal by China Mobile has sparked discourse at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency dedicated to global communication standards.
In December, the ITU established a metaverse focus group to deliberate the emerging concept of virtual worlds. Comprising regulators, academics, tech corporations, and non-governmental organisations, the group evaluates and votes on novel ideas.
China Mobile’s proposal was presented on 5th July during the second metaverse focus group meeting held in Shanghai and it is anticipated to undergo voting at the next assembly in October.
However, concerns regarding data privacy and personal freedom are looming large.
Critics argue that the notion of a distinctive identifier, coupled with the prolonged storage of personal data, could infringe upon online privacy rights. While such measures might be deemed acceptable within the confines of a nation governed by a single party, democratic societies may view them as invasive and intrusive.
Predictably, this proposal is anticipated to face substantial opposition within the ITU. Nonetheless, the global law enforcement agency Interpol is advocating for the early adoption of virtual reality technology to stay ahead of potential lawbreakers, scammers, and terrorists who might exploit the metaverse.
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