Immersive Crime: A Call for Action to Regulate Crime in the Metaverse

By: Talia Cabrera

TRIGGER WARNING CONTAINS STORIES REGARDING SEXUAL ASSAULT 

The concept of video games offering an alternative life is not a new idea. As technology advances, games like a Second Life, Sims, and even Club Penguin have adapted to new interfaces to allow players to continue to create a supplemental life that differs from the one they live off-screen. The Metaverse is now expanding this alternate universe through virtual reality (VR) by creating an immersive platform where you can do anything you can imagine.

Immersive technology, like VR, allows users to see a panoramic view of the image in front of them on their devices. Headsets and handheld controls enhance the simulation by making it more natural and vivid. It can feel like you are in these experiences without physically being there. Metaverse’s social networking app, Horizon Worlds, is a digital environment built around people and how they hope to interact with each other in the virtual world. A user can create an avatar, teleport around with a click of a button, and feel the presence of other users. Your avatar, a 3D impression of what you represent, can outwardly show facial expressions and body language when interacting with one another. Meanwhile, you are physically waiving your arms in your living room with a blocky Oculus system over your eyes while your avatar travels around the world. The immersive technology of VR makes the line between your physical and virtual worlds blurry. However, the violent interactions in Metaverse feel too much like the physical world.

Harmful behavior thrives in a largely unregulated space. The Metaverse’s failure to moderate content in Horizon Worlds has caused high rates of users being harassed, virtually groped, and gang rape. Online abusers are attacking female appearing avatars immediately after they are logging onto the platform. Researchers from SumOfUs, a nonprofit dedicated to researching Horizon Worlds, have all separately experienced male-appearing avatars making suggestive and lewd remarks. In one case, a researcher’s avatar was led into a private room where she was told to turn around so he could “do it from behind” while other users in the room could watch. Several other people have reported racial and homophobic slurs being used in the metaverse highlighting the rapid growth of harassment in a dangerous world.

Are the abuses to our virtual bodies causing the same amount of harm to our physical bodies to be criminalized? It’s hard to have an affirmative answer, but with recent allegations surfacing from the Metaverse, action needs to be taken. 

The studies around Metaverse users point out the difficulty of prosecuting harassment in this virtual world. Its difficult to punish virtual sexual assault of avatar through law, but the harm it causes to the user may be as dangerous to the actions in the real world. Surely, Meta needs to restrict abusive behavior, sexual violence, and hate speech through policies on their platform to reduce the amount of harassment, but other solutions need to catch up to technology. These seriously immoral acts done in the Metaverse may call for the user to get banned from the game, but is that enough? With Meta’s goal to reach a billion people in the next decade, concerns about integrating the law, privacy, and protection for users across state lines and around the world will continue to be a point of concern until regulators hold Meta accountable today. 

Sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and racial slurs are not isolated to the Metaverse. Online harassment through social media continues to be a place where violent interactions occur through a screen. However, Metaverse is created to be more than interaction through a screen. This immersive technology is uncharted territory that enables users to create a toxic environment with no rules. Metaverse may be advertised as an alternative world, but it is simply a mirror to the gender, class, and racial hegemonic society we live in today.

Virtual Trespass: Not in My Backyard

Picture1By Yonah Reback

Who could have predicted that last summer’s biggest fad would be the reemergence of a Japanese video game whose cultural relevance peaked fifteen years ago? If you had known that Pokémon Go would immediately sweep the nation’s interest upon its release in July 2016, call me—I want your stock tips for this summer. For the rest of us mortals, the game was a surprise hit, quickly drawing the attention of not just kids and gamers, but anyone tuned in to pop culture.  Continue reading

Virtual reality Crime Scenes: Demonstrative of Facts or Destructive of Rights?

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By CaroLea Casas

In trial advocacy classes, law students are often taught to use evidence to tell a story. Adept trial advocates can weave together the threads of a story so that jurors have a vivid sense of the circumstances – vivid enough to make them feel almost as if they were there. This ability is especially important for prosecutors and defense attorneys in the criminal realm, as these lawyers face a higher burden of proof than their civil counterparts.

Technological advances may soon take some of that burden off of the advocate’s shoulders. A recently funded Staffordshire University project led by Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls is using virtual reality technology to digitally recreate crime scenes. The project seeks to provide tools for prosecutors to show the crime scene in virtual reality to jurors via headsets. Additionally, Durham University PhD researcher Mehzeb Chowdhury has developed MABMAT, a relatively low-cost autonomous robotic imaging system capable of scanning entire crime scenes. Field-testing has been arranged with various law enforcement agencies. Both projects aim to improve on inconsistencies in evidence collection. Continue reading

Jury Finds Facebook’s “Oculus Rift” Runs on Stolen Technology; $500 Million Verdict

By Adam Roberts

oculusOn February 1, 2017, a jury in the Northern District of Texas found that Facebook’s recently acquired virtual reality (“VR”) technology, “Oculus Rift,” infringed on copyrighted source code owned by ZeniMax Media LLC. Resultantly, the jury awarded ZeniMax $500 million in damages. This case comes as a significant blow to Facebook’s recent venture into VR gaming.  And as “Oculus Rift” is being outpaced in sales numbers by Sony’s “PlayStation VR,” and HTC’s “HTC Vive,” it is unclear where the future of the device stands.

But first, how did “Oculus Rift” get to this point? A little history:

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