Metaverse and National Data Security: Challenges and Trends in Building an Ecological Governance System

By Shen Yi, Director of Fudan University’s Cyberspace International Governance Research Base

In March 2021, Roblox, a game company founded in 2004, introduced the concept “Metaverse” created in the novel “Snow Crash” completed 30 years ago in its prospectus book, triggering capital Strong response from the market. Then, Facebook, which once opened and led the global social media application for a long time, announced its entry into the Metaverse market in a high-profile manner by changing its name to Meta. Accompanied by media publicity, the concept of Metaverse shows very remarkable characteristics: high elasticity, strong scalability, and significant assignability. Based on these characteristics, a phenomenon that can be called the Metaverse boom has been born around the world. Excluding the interaction of this phenomenon with high uncertainty between the communication field and the investment market, starting from the more idealized core assumption of the concept of the Metaverse, to a certain extent , the popularity and popularity of this concept is indeed due to The world’s major national actors who have entered the new stage of informatization have raised the practical problem of how to effectively protect national data security from new threats by building an ecological governance system in the new era.

In the context of a relatively idealized discussion, regardless of technological constraints, according to the descriptions of the Metaverse, terms related to the Metaverse refer to a system: a digitally constructed A virtual world parallel to the real world; users can enter this artificial virtual world through virtual reality/augmented reality equipment and terminal equipment including mobile phones. Objectively speaking, regardless of whether the Metaverse has become a sought-after concept, the information technology revolution has entered a new stage of digitization in different ways around the world, and data has become a key resource in global cyberspace. The new focus of attention of class actors has become a basic fact of objective existence.

As far as the application of the concept in real products or practice is concerned, the online game “Second Life”, which came out before the Metaverse concept in 2021, already has typical, significant and comprehensive “virtual reality” characteristics. After removing the distraction of over-inflated cosmetic discourse, if the core issues of vital importance to the Metaverse are to be determined, there is no doubt that it is the effective collection of data, standardized use, and security. Or, to put it another way, from the perspective of cybersecurity and cyberspace governance of Metaverse-related issues, the issue of national data security is put on the agenda in a more dramatic and impactful way, and the issue of national data security is put on the agenda for sovereign states. The government is the key actor at the core, and has put forward a new data security governance requirement in a sense.

Taking Meta and Robolx companies as examples, from the perspective of data, the biggest breakthrough of the Metaverse concept is the deep systematic and intelligent mining of user personalized data, and then provide highly personalized user experience customization on this basis. In this direction alone, there are at least three very core data governance issues: the system guarantee of users’ individual privacy data within the national geographic boundary; the effective regulation of sensitive data transmission across geographic boundaries; Coordination and Jurisdiction Mechanisms Based on Shared Knowledge. From the perspective of European and American practice, the general environment is not friendly to any actor trying to radically implement the Metaverse practice in a subversive way in the short term.

In the United States, the Metaverse can be regarded to a considerable extent as a “fight for life” for traditional super platforms to achieve a transition in an unconventional way, thereby continuing to maintain the ability to capture value. By 2021, ByteDance’s short video social platform Tiktok has jumped to become the world’s most downloaded mobile application (App). This shows that in the previous strategic competition in the mobile Internet audio and video market, the traditional super platform represented by Facebook, which had not changed its name to Meta at that time, continued to be relatively backward. Obviously, the low-cost way to realize the transition in the short term is to deeply mine the user data accumulated on these platforms under the concept of Metaverse, and then provide customized services, and then continue to maintain the traditional business model rather than core products. The competitive advantage of super platforms.

At the same time, since 2016, in the domestic political ecology of the United States, ordinary people have been strongly dissatisfied with the deep involvement of super platforms and their actual controllers in American domestic politics for the traditional establishment elite to control domestic public opinion; in the traditional establishment elite group The widespread resentment in China comes from the lack of effective new media operation and maintenance capabilities, and the general accumulation of negative emotions after social media platforms encounter political setbacks, eventually in a conspiracy way, that is, it is not the establishment that does not understand the Internet, but the giant. The incompetence, incompetence and unfriendliness of social media platforms have led to the establishment’s loss of power. The two have come together in a rather debatable way in Europe and the United States, forming a whole new general atmosphere of questioning whether new network applications are trustworthy. In the development of the Metaverse under this macroscopic background, if substantial breakthroughs cannot be made in the effective protection of personal privacy data, or even new data leakage, privacy exposure, and secondary disasters occur, then there will be a situation in Europe and the United States. The measures of wheel reinforcement to regulate the concept of the Metaverse are entirely to be expected.

In Europe, how the practice of the Metaverse can break through the compliance risks brought about by the individual-centric strong privacy protection mechanism called the “Wall of Sighs” has become one of the core propositions that will affect the future development of the Metaverse in Europe.” Since the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the entire Europe has basically established a data security protection mechanism with the core goal of “personal privacy protection”. For operators, the biggest challenge with this guidance mechanism is that it brings compliance costs that cannot be clearly estimated: any type of actor in any European country, because of the existence of GDPR, has obtained the protection of personal privacy and personal privacy protection. Legal basis for legal proceedings for information disposal. Considering that the internal political systems of European countries are characterized by significant decentralization and multi-party competition, the use of personal privacy protection and personal information disposal legal proceedings to conduct political mobilization to obtain political chips is almost destined to become the data security legislation of any country in Europe in the future. The core orientation is in stark contrast to the various commercial applications of the Metaverse, which urgently need to reduce the risks and costs in the whole process of data collection, in-depth mining and refined customization.

From a global perspective, the challenge posed by the concept of the Metaverse to national data security has once again verified the judgment made by American scholar Joseph Nye in The Paradox of American Power, which was generally underestimated. The importance of the information technology revolution, that is, the information technology revolution does not take place in a vacuum, but occurs in the established political, economic and social structure.The Metaverse, which naturally requires cross-border use of users’ personal data, faces a more delicate situation.

On the one hand, manufacturers operating Metaverse applications naturally have fixed national attributes. This attribute, from the perspective of “construction-cognitive” research on international politics, usually forms a clear link with specific international relations scenarios. For example, for the United States, if a certain application or product is provided by a Chinese company like Huawei, it will be affected by the US national security strategy’s judgment on the tone of China-US relations. By the same token, when the U.S. government clearly and publicly defined China as an adversary or even an “enemy”, there were hostile actions that clearly pointed to China in both strategic oaths and actual actions, especially in subversive ideological situations. When taking action or wording, it is necessary to convince Chinese regulatory authorities, and even Chinese users, that the Metaverse products provided by operators with close interaction with the US government that can directly act on the user’s cognitive system are safe, reliable, and safe. Credible, usable, and I am afraid it will also be a rather daunting task.

On the other hand, any kind of Metaverse product, from an entity point of view, no matter what technical means and methods are specifically relied on, conduct in-depth mining of personal information, and use the mining results to conduct in-depth system customization on a global scale, with a high probability Become one of the most important links in the whole product. This requires the global geopolitical atmosphere to be in a controllable and friendly state at least within the scope of relevant products. The sovereign countries covered by Metaverse products also need to have consistent standards on cross-border transmission and co-processing of personal privacy data, as well as an operable coordination mechanism to deal with the corresponding problems. The closest scenario to this was before the G20 held the Osaka meeting in Japan, and the Digital Economy TaskForce under the G20 Business Summit (B20) mechanism was led by Germany and other countries. A credible cross-border data flow mechanism for Western liberal consensus. Of course, by extension, the Internet freedom strategy that the United States once advocated globally, as well as the so-called “volunteer alliance” and “like-minded countries” emphasized by the Bush administration during the start of the Iraq War, can all be regarded as such attempts. Some kind of effort or approximate simulation of building cross-border data flow governance standards within the core countries of the United States and the West, or under absolute guidance. However, there is a crucial difference between this attempt and the endogenous impulse of the Metaverse to build an artificial virtual world that covers the largest range of Internet users in the world, because from the results of objective practice, the attempts led by the United States and other Western countries, Pursuing a key, doomed goal is to exclude China, the world’s largest single source of internet users, for at least some time.

From another perspective, the concept of the Metaverse will gain popularity in 2021, causing a sensation in the market. It will solve the risks and challenges faced by national data security on a global scale, and build an effective new model and mechanism for global data security governance. At the same time, new opportunities are also presented. The Metaverse needs a truly global one, embodying the true spirit of multilateralism, true multi-stakeholder innovation and coordination, and a true governance mechanism that provides effective services and institutional support for the forefront of information technology development.

It is worth noting that no matter how the Metaverse is actually practiced, firstly, the Metaverse is definitely not andshould not be a tool or means for a Leviathan-style monopoly platform in the business world to use digital ecology for indiscriminate materialization and alienation; its Second, the Metaverse certainly cannot become the Godzilla behemoth constructed by a single hegemonic country and its few allies to continue to dominate the world in the context of the digital economy; in other words, if the concept of the Metaverse is to be realized and fully recognized and accepted by all parties In the case of maximizing value creation under reasonable constraints through the Metaverse, then the Metaverse must accept and fully embody the concept of the human community, or, to put it more bluntly, unless the Metaverse is willing to consciously move towards building humanity Make efforts in the direction of a community of shared destiny, and consciously carry out corresponding practices at the philosophical level to build the defense line of a community of shared future in cyberspace, otherwise, it is unlikely to be successfully realized.

(This article was published in the first issue of “China Information Security” magazine in 2022)

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