TRAILblazing a responsible future for the Internet

A virtual world where people from across the world, wherever they are, socialise and interact with each other, work, play, learn, shop and create. A world where digital technologies like video-conferencing, games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing, cryptocurrencies, social media, virtual reality and more are all blended in.

It is coming and the Centre for Technology, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and the Law (TRAIL) at NUS Law is part of this new exciting global initiative.

On 27 Sep, Facebook announced a US$50 million investment and collaboration with policymakers, experts and industry partners to build the “metaverse” in a responsible manner.

The word "metaverse", made up of the words "meta" and "verse", refers to a future iteration of the Internet. It is envisioned as a world of shared 3D virtual spaces linked into a virtual universe.

TRAIL is one of the first research institutes to receive a grant from Facebook under its XR Programs and Research Fund to conduct research on privacy and data use.

Associate Professor Daniel Seng, Director of TRAIL, said: “We at TRAIL are glad to be able to contribute towards Facebook’s metaverse-building project. Extended reality creates implications for data privacy and data use that go well beyond the aggregation of data protection issues in reality and virtuality. We believe that it is important to bring to bear an objective and robust analysis of these issues and offer a variety of multidisciplinary solutions for their resolution in the design stages to ensure that the metaverse and its technologies are robust and consonant with the best ideals of humanity.”

TRAIL will be exploring a number of possible research topics, and is likely to tap into the Asian Privacy Scholars Network for specific research proposals. Some potential areas for research include frameworks for bystander privacy in the context of wearable devices (such as Augmented Reality Smart Glasses), and biometrics and human computer interaction (HCI) privacy models in the context of wearables.

TRAIL has been active since its launch in December 2019 by Minister Edwin Tong, and has just published its Year In Review 2020 Report, which may be downloaded here.

Professor David Tan, Deputy Director of TRAIL, kickstarted the Seminars on Law and Technology (SLATE) series in the first half 2021, which was organised with the support of the Singapore Academy of Law.

SLATE is a series of seminars exploring themes in the current debates surrounding the interactions between law and technology, and will be of interest to academics, practitioners, and entrepreneurs who desire a more nuanced exploration of the legal issues involved in new technologies.

TRAIL has also been at the forefront of media and academic commentaries on the reform to the Singapore Copyright Act, with Prof Tan publishing an article on the implications of the new legislative amendments and the Personal Data Protection Act on text and datamining activities. The article may be accessed here.