Gaming out the metaverse – POLITICO

Roblox, the online game platform that boasts a user base comprised largely of children under 13 and numbering in the hundreds of millions, is trying to grow along with its audience.

The Roblox Corporation announced at its developer conference this month that it will soon allow brands to directly purchase in-game advertising, creating a massive opportunity for companies eager to hook a tech-savvy young audience — and sending shivers down the spines of many parents.

Gaming will be central to the construction of a metaverse, which raises glaringly obvious questions about safety, privacy, and content moderation. Games like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft are the most mature examples of what metaverse architects envision for an immersive online world; Fortnite developer Epic Games has raised billions largely on the back of its metaverse ambitions.

Some politicians have already taken notice and asked federal consumer watchdogs to keep an eye out. In February of this year, a group of legislators led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the FTC urging it to use its “full authority” to protect minors from both “manipulation” and privacy or safety violations. FTC commissioner Lina Khan responded to Markey in a letter saying that children’s use of VR gaming platforms poses “serious risks” including the use of “dark patterns” meant to algorithmically manipulate users into purchases or other decisions.

Washington keeping a wary eye on the gaming industry is nothing new. In the early 1990s the U.S. Senate held hearings on the rise of increasingly violent video games, leading to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board that still classifies games by age group today. America has now largely made its peace with decapitations, dismemberment, and other forms of simulated gruesomeness, but the ways in which online gaming spaces can materially affect child health and privacy are still relatively under-policed and -understood. (Last week the Department of Homeland Security awarded a $700,000 grant to researchers investigating political extremism in online gaming spaces.)

Each of those issues will only become a bigger deal in a virtual space like the metaverse, where not only are interactions more unpredictable and intimate than they appear on our current-day screens, but the devices that enable them collect voluminous amounts of data that make smartphones look discreet by comparison. Protecting children is, at least notionally, a rare point of unanimous bipartisan agreement. That makes video games an unexpected frontline for the early debates over exactly what the metaverse should be, who should be allowed to use it, and how.

“In a digital society it’s impossible to wall children off from the internet entirely and expect them to do well,” said Will Duffield, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute who focuses on online speech. “It needs to be more a question of how children are educated in healthy, responsible, safe internet use, rather than how to best wall them off.”

Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis, America’s first self-proclaimed “gamer governor,” announced this week that residents of his state will now be able to pay their state taxes in cryptocurrency.

Polis, who has been mulling the idea for some time, announced the development yesterday. A state spokesperson confirmed today the system is now live. The state’s revenue website now lists “cryptocurrency” under its accepted payment methods, specifying most notably that payments can only be made through personal PayPal accounts, and only one type of cryptocurrency can be used per invoice (i.e., no mixing and matching the four cryptocurrencies currently accepted by PayPal: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin).

The only two other states to have moved decisively toward crypto tax payments are Utah, which passed a law ordering it to be accepted by the beginning of next year, and Ohio, where a crypto portal set up by former State Treasurer (and Republican Senate primary candidate) Josh Mandel was shut down in 2019 amid questions about its legality.

It hasn’t exactly been a good media cycle for Clearview AI, the facial-recognition software company whose signature product is now restricted or banned in a laundry list of countries.

Now, the European Parliament might be gearing up to ban it at large scale. POLITICO’s Clothide Goujard reported this morning for Pro subscribers that Renew Europe, a liberal group that’s one of the Parliament’s largest, now largely supports such a ban, putting it in line with left-wing members who have long called for one.

Like in the United States, that puts them at odds with law enforcement agencies eager to use its tools for surveillance and apprehension. (The center-right European People’s Party, Clothilde writes, is now all but isolated in its efforts to allow further use of facial recognition by police.) Stateside, Vermont became the first state to ban facial recognition in 2020, and 17 localities (including one county, King in Washington) have passed similar laws.

Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us @DigitalFuture on Twitter.

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