In a new strategy published on July 11, the European Commission has identified Web 4.0 and virtual worlds—often also referred to as the metaverse—as having the potential to transform the ways in which EU citizens live, work and interact. The EU’s strategy consists of ten action points addressing four themes drawn from the Digital Decade policy programme and the Commission’s Connectivity package: (1) People and Skills; (2) Business; (3) Government (i.e., public services and projects); and (4) Governance.
The European Commission’s strategy indicates that it is unlikely to propose new regulation in the short to medium-term: indeed, European Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager has recently warned against jumping to regulation of virtual worlds as the “first sort of safety pad.” Instead, the Commission views its framework of current and upcoming digital technology-related legislation (including the GDPR, the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act and the proposed Markets in Crypto-Assets Regulation) to be applicable to Web 4.0 and virtual worlds in a “robust” and “future-oriented” manner.
What Are Virtual Worlds and Web 4.0?
The Commission defines virtual worlds as being “persistent, immersive environments, based on technologies including 3D and extended reality (XR), which make it possible to blend physical and digital worlds in realtime, for a variety of purposes.” It considers Web 4.0 to be the “fourth generation of the World Wide Web,” which will feature “advanced artificial and ambient intelligence, the internet of things, trusted blockchain transactions, virtual worlds and XR capabilities.” These will enable digital and real objects to integrate and communicate with each other to “seamlessly blen[d] the physical and digital worlds.” According to Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, the EU will “connect virtual world developers with industry users, invest in the uptake and scale-up of new technologies, and give people the tools and the skills to safely and confidently use virtual worlds.” The EU is keen to ensure that it establishes itself as a leader in Web 4.0 and virtual worlds, and that the emerging metaverse reflects EU values, principles, and fundamental rights. The strategy is the latest in a series of metaverse-related EU initiatives and announcements.