On 11 July, the European Commission presented its new strategy for the Web 4.0 and virtual worlds (the latter which has previously been referred to as the metaverse). The Commission’s strategy addresses the continuously rapid development of the internet, including in particular the values and principles that shall characterise the “new” internet, when transitioning from the third generation of the internet, the so-called Web 3.0, to the fourth generation of the internet, the Web 4.0. Whereas the former is characterised by openness, decentralisation, and user full empowerment, the next generation web will to an even greater extent than now blur the lines between the digital and the real world, as it will enable integration between digital and real objects and environments, as well as it will enhance interactions between these online and offline milieus. As such, the key objective is to achieve digital environments that are open, secure, trustworthy, fair and inclusive for both European citizens, businesses and public administrations. The strategy shall therefore serve as a guideline towards ensuring this.
Virtual worlds will undoubtedly impact our societies, bringing about numerous opportunities. Although the technology for virtual worlds is arguably still in its early days, this technological development will pave the way for new and advanced shopping experiences within the digital commerce sector, as consumers shopping online will, for instance, get the opportunity to try on products virtually, as well as we can expect to see an even greater extent of personalisation and customisation when browsing through online stores. While the greater intertwining of offline and online retail will contribute to a more seamless shopping experience for consumers, overall providing greater convenience, it will also help online retailers to reduce returns and broaden their customer base. As such, Ecommerce Europe will continue to follow developments in the EU on virtual worlds and their impact on the digital commerce sector.
However, the fast-paced development of Web 4.0 and virtual worlds will also create new risks, which will need to be addressed. To ensure a well-functioning, safe, and trustworthy digital sphere in Europe, characterised by Union values, the Commission has therefore presented four key strategy pillars, which shall help shape its work the matter.
Key strategy pillars for virtual worlds and Web 4.0
The first of the Commission’s key strategy pillars, set out to guide and shape the EU’s next technological transition, is ‘Empowering people and reinforcing skills’. The primary objectives under this pillar are “to foster awareness, access to trustworthy information and [to] build a talent pool of virtual world specialists.” To do so, the Commission will take into account the guiding principles that were put forward by the related Citizens’ Panel on virtual worlds, as well as it will formulate guidance for the general public. Moreover, the Commission will cooperate with Member Sates to support skills developments and to set up a talent pipeline to ensure talent acquisition within the field of virtual worlds.
The second pillar called ‘Business: supporting a European Web 4.0 industrial ecosystem’ shall contribute to scaling up excellence and address fragmentation. Currently, there is no EU ecosystem in place to bring together the different players of the value chain of virtual worlds and Web 4.0. As such, the Commission has decided to propose a candidate Partnership on Virtual Worlds within the framework of Horizon Europe, in order to “foster excellence in research and develop and industrial and technological roadmap for virtual worlds.” Moreover, the Commission also seeks to boost innovation by allowing for the testing of new digital creation tools, e.g. through regulatory sandboxes.
Labelled ‘Government: supporting societal progress and virtual public services’, the third key strategy pillar seeks to harness the opportunities that virtual worlds can bring about. In line with this pillar, the European Commission is therefore investing in, and launching, different digital initiatives, e.g. dealing with smart communities, city planning, public policy, health and science.
Finally, the fourth pillar, ‘Shaping global standards for open and interoperable virtual worlds and Web 4.0’, seeks to ensure that virtual worlds and the Web 4.0 will not be dominated by a few big players. One of the main tasks under this headline will therefore be for the Commission to engage with internet governance stakeholders worldwide and promote new Web 4.0 standards that corresponds with the values and visions of the Union.
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