GAFAM in ambush
It is clear, in this new eternal economy of metaversethe most powerful player is none other than the game master, that is, the company that creates, manages and organizes the metaverse that users will evolve in. Currently, there is no metaversebut many metaverses, in the plural, without context or context. And most of them are owned by video game companies like Epic games or of small studies as in the case of The sandbox. Not to mention the GAFAMs, who do not intend to miss the opportunity to expand their control over the lives of users whose data is the convenience that their business model. In the medium to long term, we can foresee that the web giants will make sure to centralize the metaverse as much as possible by creating their own version and buying out competitors.
And these digital empires have everything to succeed in this hostile takeover. In fact the very principle of metaverse must be a cyber community that unites millions of people. This involves very important network infrastructures. In fact, small companies are automatically discriminated against in this market, while the largest start one step ahead and already have the resources and teams to manage such a volume of data. In other words, the power that the GAFAMs have already acquired in the current version of the web gives them a significant head start to impose themselves in the race for metaverse.
It is precisely this purpose Facebook, renamed META since the end of 2021: In his presentation of the shift taken by his company, Mark Zuckerberg says very clearly that he wants to create an alternative, parallel, perpetual world where users can develop, socialize, work , have fun . All this using avatars and virtual reality.
Note that Amazon is not left out, as since 2020 Jeff Bezos’ company has launched its own metaversewith its own integrated economy, currently through a soberly dubbed video game New world. Similarly, Apple has already announced its own plan for metaverse and the release of a virtual reality headset in 2022. Even more colossal, the project Metaverse Seoulfrom the South Korean government aims to make the country’s capital the first city in the “metaverse”: residents of the virtual city will be able to visit the streets, attend festivals, go to shops and buy virtual objects. , go to do their administrative procedures in the capital’s town halls, etc., all this in ” metaverse and from 2022.
Faced with this avalanche of facts, ethical considerations naturally immediately arise: are we still human if we live through screens? Privacy issues also arise. And even ecological questions: where to store the servers in such an alternative world, how to produce the virtual devices that make it possible to connect to this ” metaverse »…
Certain social questions also arise: if a part of human activity tomorrow moves towards the digital sphere, what will happen to the inhabitants of the poorest countries and those who do not have access to the Internet? Isn’t there a risk of witnessing a kind of gigantic ghettoization, where the real world would become the disreputable neighborhood of an idealized virtual world?
Very political questions still arise: how to protect citizens from states likely to use the technologies from metaverse to exercise control over their population? At the time of Chinese social credit or the emergence of digital currencies, this issue of citizens’ privacy should question all the actors of our democracies.
But all these questions, while they deserve to be asked, are all very secondary to another problem: that of the sovereignty of states over private companies. For at present it is the only question that really arises, and the one that underlies all the others.
Today, GAFAM’s monopoly on economic and digital life already turns these companies into quasi-states. At least they have the economic power, which has already begun to extend to the political, financial and societal spheres. The emergence of metaverse would then make it possible to connect all these areas and give GAFAM control over the professional, social, private and financial data of our lives. Let’s give a very concrete example: what would happen if French citizens started using the euros they earn during the day to convert them into the currency of metaverse of Facebook to consume goods offered in this virtual world? De facto, a huge percentage of French GDP would evaporate into a virtual world, into virtual consumption and through virtual currency. Elements over which the state has absolutely no control. If this” metaverse » has 500,000 users buying virtual goods for €10, the problem does not occur. If this represents 30% of the population buying virtual vacations and virtual apartments and paying virtual taxes, it becomes an important question.
Immigration, brain drain or money transfers abroad are hot and divisive political issues. But if the subject to-morrow were rather the subject of these new emigrants, ” meta-émigrés”, these French people who leave France without leaving it, but by deciding to live, have fun, consume and trade in the private republics of the metaverse?
In such a situation, if all or part of the human activity took place in metaverse, the state would find itself deprived of most of its powers: police, judiciary, matters of money, taxes, etc. It would almost completely disappear vis-à-vis private companies. And with good reason: since a state is simply the form of organization that a society takes to orientate and govern itself, it ceases to exist if the latter chooses to organize itself through metaverse.
Act to avoid suffering
Of course, human societies still seem very far from such a situation. But in 2000, who could have imagined that 10 years later almost all human relations would pass through social networks? The timescales on which societal change takes place have accelerated. In 2021, some wonder if the world is heading towards ” metaverse is already 5 years late. The question does not arise, or rather it no longer arises. This world is already there, it is under construction. Our only room for maneuver lies in our ability to guide this model that is being built: standards, laws, incentives, protection of privacy, space left to GAFAM, centralization, emergence of new companies, regulation of these, etc.
However, the answer to this transformation of the world begins now, not by reducing this subject to its only technical and digital dimension, but by understanding the profound consequences of the changes that this will bring. Black swan aside, our children will spend most of their time in virtual worlds, meaning they will likely value their virtual lives more than their physical lives. This has already been done, although we may regret it.
Therefore, the only question that still arises today is whether the virtual worlds in which our children will live will still be under the control of the states… or under the control of a few companies that will issue their virtual currency, choose their interest virtually , the rent of your virtual apartments or offices, which will make theirs Terms of Service the new Civil Code for these virtual places, which will appoint a virtual police to exclude problematic users from this world (and therefore from the world).
It is because states stay on their knees that private companies are great. This remained true until today, with the implicit hope of a governmental response to reclaim the digital sphere and regulate it. But this hope diminishes as the thought of Metaverse is gaining ground: the delay of states on these issues may quickly prove to be irreversible.
Without strong action by political decision-makers, without immediate awareness of public opinion, states therefore risk being further engulfed by private interests that already replace certain functions (privatization of education and health or other social services). It is today that the states must choose whether they will still be what they are in the world of tomorrow.
Part 1 : The Metaverse, a question of sovereignty [1/2]