China is reportedly exploring the implementation of a digital identity system akin to its controversial social credit system within the confines of the burgeoning Metaverse and other virtual worlds. Proposals leaked to a reputed news publishing house on August 20 reveal that state-owned telecommunications giant China Mobile has suggested a digital ID for all users of the Metaverse and virtual realms, designed to encompass both “natural characteristics” and “social characteristics.”
The rationale behind this proposal is to maintain order and safety within these virtual realms by collecting an array of personal information and identifiable markers. Details such as an individual’s occupation would be stored within this digital identity, with the data permanently stored and made accessible to authorities. For example, in the case of a problematic user who incites chaos within the Metaverse, this digital ID would enable swift identification and punishment by the police.
This proposal draws stark parallels to China’s existing social credit system, which evaluates citizens based on various metrics to influence and reward behavior. The social credit system has been used as a means of enforcement, with reported instances of offenders being barred from purchasing plane and train tickets.
In a separate development in May 2023, China unveiled the China Metaverse Technology and Application Innovation Platform, a state-backed initiative led by Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. This initiative seeks to consolidate the resources of academic institutions and businesses to fuel research and innovation in the evolving metaverse landscape. With Nanjing emerging as a metaverse hub and setting ambitious revenue targets, China’s influence in the virtual realm continues to grow.
Furthermore, a two-year metaverse innovation and development plan unveiled by Beijing’s city administration in August 2022 underscores China’s comprehensive strategy for metaverse expansion. This plan not only mandates the adoption of Web3 innovations but also emphasizes the creation of digital urban platforms and intelligent infrastructure.
In light of China’s proactive stance, Western countries are now grappling with the implications of these developments. While debates ensue over the pros and cons of such a digital identity system, stakeholders are considering alternative approaches to ensure privacy, security, and freedom within the metaverse. Balancing innovation with ethical considerations remains a challenge, as nations navigate the uncharted territory of virtual worlds.