The Metaverse and SDOs


“Metaverse” is a term created by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. It combines the words “meta” and “universe.” He envisioned it as an immersive virtual world that runs parallel to the real world. The metaverse is a concept which is being talked up by some as the future of the internet. Though at the moment there is no single agreed definition of it. The basic definition is instead of being on a computer, in the metaverse the user might use a headset to enter a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments. Unlike current VR, which is mostly used for gaming, this virtual world could be used for practically anything - work, play, concerts, cinema trips - or just hanging out.Most people envision that the user would have a 3D avatar - a representation of themselves - as they use it. Also, some organisations believe the metaverse will be based around Web3 and exist on a blockchain ledger, while use making use of NFTs and cryptocurrency though these are also considered unnecessary.

To most, the metaverse is a network of interoperable 3D virtual worlds. These worlds manifest as an immersive internet, which people experience using virtual reality (VR) headsets or augmented reality (AR) technology. Examples of two current metaverse include Fortnite and Roblex. However, they still function in a silo, so they are not true metaverses by some definitions as the user are unable to move freely between different virtual worlds.

There is potential that Standards Development Organisations (SDOs) which are member-supported organisations who develop and maintain standards to meet industry needs or mandated from government regulation. Within the EU the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), may lead to European SDOs to develop standards if there is industry or mandates to do so.

Will the metaverse require new Standards?

There are couple of broad areas which may see SDOs asked to act upon when it comes to the metaverse.

Firstly, user safety while the internet and social media have been incredible tools to connect people and create accessibility to information, many studies have also shown that there is potential for various forms of addiction. Safety concerns regarding abuse and harassment need to be considered. On top of these dangers, the metaverse’s immersive nature adds special concerns. The immersiveness makes socialising in a virtual world so much more enriching than messaging someone online, it also is what makes the effects of abuse, harassment, and intimidation so much more pronounced. People feel as though it’s really happening to them.

Secondly, people’s privacy because of the wearable nature of virtual and augmented reality devices, hardware companies will probably collect biometric data. With how targeted advertising already works to track visited websites and online behaviour, it’s possible they will use biometric data in similar ways. 

These issues may potential be solved through updating existing guidance, technical reports and harmonised standards relating to existing regulation and work being done to meet upcoming regulations. Existing work relating to GDPR, ePrivacy Act, the NIS Directive (being updated as NIS2). So these should issues relating to data protection and some cybersecurity concerns. Though it is the new types of threats which way not know about yet or only speculate about at the moment which will require new guidance or standards to address. For example, VR technology enables emotions and consciousness to be manipulated and gives hackers access not only to the victim's psyche,  but also to their body. Furthermore, hackers gaining access to such a device would be able to control what the victim was seeing and hearing, and would be able to see inside their office or home, with serious security consequences.

Another area which may see new guidance from SDOs is the area of content moderation as the planned UK Online Safety Act and the EC/EU Digital Service Act place greater penalties and responsibilities onto platforms to keep content safe and to prevent harm to users.   

Recently, a constellation of international standards organisations, including the Khronos GroupWorld Wide Web Consortium (W3C)Open Geospatial ConsortiumOpenAR CloudSpatial Web Foundation, and many others have set-up  the Metaverse Standards Forum provides a venue for cooperation between standards organisations and companies to foster the development of interoperability standards for the metaverse. Though The Forum will not create standards itself but will coordinate requirements and resources to foster the creation and evolution of standards within standards organisations working in relevant domains. So this means industry believes that standards will be required for the metaverse.


As I  see it, in the short term (next couple of years) SDOs are unlikely to produce standards or guidance relating to the metaverse though there will be studies and discussion around the metaverse. In the near future (two to five years) as existing guidance and standards are revised and updated to keep aligned with regulation the metaverse will likely be included in these updates. So looking further out (five to ten years) as the metaverse matures it is likely SDOs will be producing guidance and standards to meet mandates or requirements though at this moment it is a fairly open at the moment to what they will look like. 



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