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British regulators zero in on policing the Metaverse

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(Kitco News) - The UK continues to ramp up its efforts to develop a regulatory framework around the rapidly growing digital assets space, with the latest comments from regulators directed at policing the Metaverse. 

Melanie Dawes, CEO of the UK media regulator Ofcom, spoke at an event in London hosted by policy consulting group Global Counsel on Tuesday, where the media overseer issued a warning to companies like Meta and Microsoft that rather than being allowed to self-regulate, they will be subjected to upcoming rules that force platforms to protect users from online harms.

“I’m not sure I really see that ‘self-regulatory phase,’ to be honest, existing from a UK perspective. If you’ve got young people in an environment where there’s user-generated content according to the scope of the Bill then that will already be caught by the Online Safety Bill,” Dawes said, as reported by CNBC. 

The regulator was referring to the Online Safety Bill, which is a set of legislation attempting to curb harmful content from being widely shared on the internet. The Bill was introduced by the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) and is currently making its way through the House of Commons. 

The rules outlined in the Bill seek to impose a duty of care on firms requiring them to put robust measures in place to deal with harmful materials such as posts that promote violence or self-harm. 

Any site that hosts user-generated content will be required to remove illegal online material. Platforms that are likely to be accessed by children are instructed to remove “legal but harmful material,” such as content about eating disorders or self-harm. 

Websites that will be most affected by the Bill include social media platforms, sites with forums and messaging apps, search engines, certain online games, cloud storage providers and popular pornography sites. 

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While the text of the Bill doesn’t specifically mention websites related to the Metaverse, it is widely assumed that they will also be obligated to meet its requirements. 

In her speech, Dawes directly referred to the Metaverse and highlighted the differences compared to “traditional” social media, including immersive VR services that make it difficult to observe what a child is experiencing once they have put the headset on. 

“You do need moderation to make sure that you manage these things because they’ve happened at such scale,” Dawes said. “I think that things like metaverses are adding intensity into that mix.”

The regulator also specifically pointed out the gaming sector, suggesting that regulation will need to be more “active” to ensure that safety is addressed from the start due to the fact that video games are “particularly attractive to kids.” 

Platforms that fail to comply with the rules of the Online Safety Bill will be subject to fines of up to 10% of their revenue and their senior executives could eventually face criminal liability “for more extreme breaches.” 

Currently, the Bill has stalled in its progression following the recent shakeup in the office of the Prime Minister. Now that the new PM Rishi Sunak has been installed, regulators are hopeful that the Bill will soon advance through Parliament. 

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