China wants to define how a new, promising technology called the metaverse works — and it is pushing proposals that bear an eerie resemblance to the country’s controversial social credit systems, proposals reviewed by POLITICO showed.
The proposals, drafted by the state-owned telecoms operator China Mobile, floated a “Digital Identity System” for all users of online virtual worlds, or metaverses. They recommended that the digital ID should work with “natural characteristics” and “social characteristics” that include a range of personal data points like people’s occupation, “identifiable signs” and other attributes. They also suggested this information be “permanently” stored and shared with law enforcement “to keep the order and safety of the virtual world.”
The proposals even provides the example of a noxious user called Tom — an ideal stand-in for whoever uses the fledgling technology, for instance for gaming or socializing — who “spreads rumors and makes chaos in the metaverse”; the digital identity system would allow the police to promptly identify and punish him.
The proposals are part of discussions between tech experts and officials at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ telecoms agency that sets global rules for how technology works.
Chinese public and private actors have sought to set global standards on fledgling technologies at the ITU — a strategy that Western officials have previously warned about as China seeks to promote a government-controlled version of the internet and telecommunications. Western officials already rang the alarm in 2020 over similar attempts by Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to rewrite how internet protocols, a key building block of global internet traffic, work. [Continue reading…]