NUS Law leads discussions on data, information and intellectual property protection in the metaverse

More than 200 business leaders, law practitioners, academics and policymakers gathered to discuss and share perspectives on data, information and intellectual property protection in the metaverse at a one-day conference held on 20 September 2022, organised by the Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and the Law (TRAIL) at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law).

The Conference, titled “Understanding the Metaverse: Law, Policy & Practices”, is the first of its kind in Singapore to focus on the relevance and application of existing law and policies on matters concerning privacy in the metaverse space as more personal data harnessed through multiple technologies converge in this new virtual realm. It is conducted in person on the Bukit Timah Campus and virtually. It builds on the panel conversations at the recent TechLaw.Fest and IP Week@SG conferences, and is co-convened by Professor David Tan and Associate Professor Daniel Seng from NUS Law.

Prof Tan, who is co-director of TRAIL, said: “The growing popularity of interaction in virtual spaces – from daily and routine activities such as gaming and shopping, to purchasing assets such as NFTs and cryptocurrencies and even creating personas and avatars in a virtual world or ‘metaverse’ – creates an urgent need for discussions on how data and information collected from physical interactions are integrated into these virtual spaces safely and securely.”

The Conference, supported by Meta and leading law firm Rajah & Tann, is part of TRAIL and NUS Law’s efforts to raise awareness and drive discussions around the entire gamut of legal and policy issues associated with the metaverse.

Mr Steve Tan, deputy head of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice at Rajah & Tann said: “While the metaverse presents incredible opportunities for innovation, it also raises questions about the applicability of existing laws to the virtual world, and the need for new laws to address the novel legal challenges. Rajah & Tann is delighted to support NUS Law and to help drive this dialogue to address emerging issues at the intersection of law and tech.”

Together with NUS Law, Meta and Rajah & Tann, other top legal academics, business leaders and policymakers from Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tallinn Law School in Estonia, Microsoft and the Personal Data Protection Commission of Singapore also shared their perspectives on the way forward towards a safer and more secure environment for users of the metaverse.

Mr Yeong Zee Kin, Assistant Chief Executive (Data Innovation and Protection Group) of the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), said: “The metaverse promises to revolutionise the way we live, work, and play. As we venture into the metaverse, we will generate much more data through our interactions. This is a good time to work in close collaboration with the industry and consumers to develop the right safeguards for consumer privacy while enabling innovation in the metaverse.”  

Paving the way for frameworks towards better information and data governance in the metaverse

At the Conference, also launched a call for proposals for research projects to be funded by the Meta XR Programs and Research Fund which will pave the way for forming policies and frameworks to govern privacy and data use. In 2021, TRAIL became one of the first research institutes to receive a grant from Meta to conduct research on privacy and data use in Singapore.

Ms Rahimah Abdulrahim, Director of Public Policy (Southeast Asia) at Meta, said: “Building the metaverse is something that requires an all of industry effort, and Meta won’t be doing this alone. Partnering with other companies, creators, developers, and policymakers will be a crucial part of how we navigate future challenges, and we will be guided by values like economic opportunity, privacy, safety, and equity and inclusion. It is especially important that we build the metaverse responsibly, which is why we’re working closely with the academic community to support research through the Meta XR Programs & Research Fund.”

Prof Tan said that areas of research can include frameworks for bystander privacy, particularly in the context of wearable devices such as augmented reality smart glasses, as well as biometrics and human-computer interaction privacy models, amongst others.

He added: “These research projects aim to accelerate the development of policies in areas such as privacy concerns and the need for consent for data collection from individuals who are subjected to the use of smart devices worn or installed by others around them, and even the treatment and use of ‘inferred data’ that is obtained from our daily interactions with technology such as online transactions or even facial- or fingerprint-recognition-enabled devices. More importantly, these would ultimately lead to better governance and regulation over the use of personal information as lines between our physical and virtual spaces and identities blur.”

The research grants are expected to be awarded early next year, with the research projects expected to be completed by mid-2023.