IGF 2023 Open Forum #20 Benefits and challenges of the immersive realities

Monday, 9th October, 2023 (06:15 UTC) - Monday, 9th October, 2023 (07:15 UTC)
WS 8 – Room C-1


Round Table - 60 Min


As the concept of the Metaverse and immersive realities continues to gain attraction, it becomes increasingly important to understand its potential impact on our societies and individuals, as well as on the core values of the Council of Europe. Experience from the digital evolution suggests that the speed of technological progress exceeds the speed of our understanding of societal impact of use of such technologies and, subsequently, elaboration of legal regulatory mechanisms to address identified challenges. It is important to explore and to understand how much immersive realities can contribute to improvements in daily lives of the citizens, but also how they might impact democratic institutions and processes and enjoyment of fundamental rights. Industry representatives, human rights organizations, Council of Europe partner organizations will be invited to contribute to the discussion in all its aspects. The discussions will provide glimpse of industry vision and policy approaches to the design and application of immersive technologies. It will also explore best practices for protecting fundamental rights in the context of the virtual realities, as well as the ways of identifying potential legal and regulatory challenges. The findings of a joint comprehensive Report elaborated for the Council of Europe by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and its findings exploring these and other challenges immersive realities pose will be discussed during the session.

The session will be promoted on the Council of Europe channels, as well as within the IEEE large network of professionals in order to broaden the participation to the debate. The session foresees a Q/A both with interventions from the floor and online, including in the chat.


🔒Council of Europe
Rodica Ciochina, Council of Europe


Patrick Penninckx, Head of the Information Society Department, Council of Europe - Human Rights perspective

Clara Neppel, Senior Director Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Yu Yuan, President, IEEE Standards Association (online)

Melodena Stephens, Professor of Innovation and Technology Governance, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government (online)

Adam Ingle, Global Digital Policy Lead, the LEGO Group 

Onsite Moderator

Irene Kitsara, European Standardization Initiatives Director, Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)

Online Moderator

Rodica Ciochina, Programme Specialist, Council of Europe


Rodica Ciochina, Programe Specialist, Council of Europe


1. No Poverty
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
13. Climate Action

Targets: The metaverse has the potential to impact or be related to the SDGs in multiple ways, such as: 1. No Poverty (SDG 1): The metaverse can provide new income opportunities for people, especially those who are in poverty or live in rural areas. For example, individuals can monetize their skills and services in the metaverse by selling virtual products, creating virtual events, or offering virtual experiences. 2. Quality Education (SDG 4): The metaverse can enhance education by providing immersive and interactive learning experiences. For example, students can take virtual field trips to other countries or historical sites, interact with experts in various fields, or participate in simulations and experiments. 3. Gender Equality (SDG 5): The metaverse can provide a safe and equal environment for women and girls to participate in the digital economy. For example, virtual reality can provide women with new job opportunities in fields like gaming, esports, and digital art, where they are underrepresented. 4. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure (SDG 9): The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize various sectors and industries, creating new markets and opportunities. For example, the metaverse can enhance supply chains by tracking and verifying the origin and authenticity of products using blockchain technology. 5. Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11): The metaverse can support sustainable urban planning and design by enabling virtual city modeling and analysis. For example, urban planners can create virtual replicas of cities and simulate the impact of infrastructure projects on traffic, air quality, and water resources. 6. Climate Action (SDG 13): The metaverse can raise awareness and support for climate action by providing immersive experiences of climate change impacts and solutions. For example, virtual reality experiences can simulate the effects of rising sea levels, wildfires, and extreme weather events, and encourage individuals and communities to take action. Overall, the metaverse can provide new opportunities and solutions to achieve the SDGs, but it is important to ensure that it promotes inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability in its development and implementation. Nevertheless, along with the potential benefits, the metaverse could also bring several challenges to the achievement of the SDGs, such as: 1. Inequality: The development and access to the metaverse could exacerbate existing inequalities. Low-income individuals or those in developing countries may not have the means to participate in this virtual economy, resulting in a wider wealth gap. 2. Privacy and Security: The metaverse requires the collection of personal data to function, and this data can be vulnerable to cyber threats and exploitation, leading to privacy violations and security breaches. 3. Environmental Impact: The metaverse requires significant energy consumption and computing power, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating climate change. 4. Addiction and Isolation: The metaverse, if not used in moderation, can cause addiction and social isolation, leading to mental health issues and a decline in physical activity and human interaction. 5. Legal and Ethical Issues: The metaverse poses new legal and ethical challenges such as copyright infringement, intellectual property rights, and the regulation of immersive and realistic content. Overall, the metaverse's development and implementation need to address these challenges and ensure that it aligns with the principles of sustainability, equity, and inclusivity to promote the achievement of the SDGs

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Exploring the Metaverse's expansive scope, distinctive features, and intricate complexities. Acknowledging the need to mitigate potential risks and address human rights challenges. Emphasizing the importance of awareness, education, and collaborative efforts to shape its development while upholding democratic principles. CoE is dedicated to safeguarding rights in the digital age, working along with other concerned stakeholders in this.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Call to Action: Metaverse challenges demand multidisciplinary collaboration and multi stakeholder approach for tailored solutions. Explore existing instruments, legislate as/if needed, develop new (socio)technical and other standards to support implementation. Uphold and promote human rights, rule of law, democracy in the digital age, without stifling innovation.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

The Council of Europe organized an Open Forum during the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2023, focusing on the transformative potential of the immersive realities such as the Metaverse and its implications for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy. The session aimed to shed light on the complex issues surrounding the Metaverse and engage industry representatives, human rights organizations, and partner organizations in a dialogue about its opportunities and challenges. The session tackled the ongoing work on the joint comprehensive report prepared by the Council of Europe in collaboration with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The following key messages emerged during the panel discussions:

Understanding the Metaverse and its components: The term "Metaverse" is often used interchangeably with immersive realities and virtual worlds. Virtual worlds and immersive realities are components of the broader Metaverse. While virtual worlds and immersive experiences already exist in consumer applications, such as VR gaming and social platforms, the Metaverse offers vast application potential, including government use and the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as political participation through e-voting and virtual governments.

Defining Features of the Metaverse: The Metaverse is characterized by several key features, including a sense of presence, immersiveness, persistence, convergence of physical and virtual worlds, and seamless interconnectedness. These features rely on underlying technologies such as VR headsets, AI, blockchain, 5G, and IoT. These technologies enable the technical implementation of the Metaverse's features but should not be confused with the Metaverse itself. The Council of Europe recognizes the need to address both existing harms and potential risks associated with the Metaverse, along with its benefits.

Complexity and uncertainty: The Metaverse's evolution is marked by complexity, involving enabling technologies like AI, VR, and blockchain. Lessons learned from these technologies can inform our understanding of the Metaverse's implications. Raising awareness, educating stakeholders, and fostering dialogue between policymakers and technologists are essential to identifying needs, gaps, and feasible measures.

Challenges to Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy: The Metaverse presents unique challenges related to identity, privacy, safety, security, protection of vulnerable populations, access, inclusion, freedom of expression, censorship, labor, environment, and the rule of law. These challenges include issues like data privacy, digital territoriality, and enforcement. The intrusion of immersive technologies into personal spaces raises concerns about mental privacy and autonomy.

Some of the concerns we already experienced are expected to be exacerbated, some new considerations will come up, while we will have to rethink how we define, perceive and safeguard for example identity, reality, choice, consent, agency, data or how we distinguish public from private space, in view of the intrinsically pervasive nature and increased breadth of sensing which is necessary for the immersive technologies to drive key functionalities. The same unprecedented nature and volume of data collection and the intrusion to our homes, our network and minds creates greater risks for example to bystander privacy, freedom of thought and related mental privacy and mental autonomy for example, with new frontiers in manipulation and other existing risks. Implementation, compliance and enforcement are also expected to be more complex due to the complex nature of immersive realities.

Behavioral and space management: The Metaverse represents a shift from content and agent management to behavioral and space management. This shift necessitates a balance between maintaining existing considerations and adapting to the unique dynamics of the Metaverse.

While we don’t know how the metaverse will evolve and to what extent, we do know that it is complex, with a series of enabling technologies like AI, VR and blockchain. We can use some of the lessons learned from these technologies and do some further research to better understand the different technology implications across different areas. In that respect, awareness raising and education will also be key to create common understanding as well as related skills, while a dialogue between policy makers and technologies can help identify needs, gaps and feasibility of considered measures, along with the assessment on roles and responsibilities different profiles.

Regulation, standards, and legislation: While the Council of Europe has developed a robust framework of instruments and recommendations in the areas of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy, the Metaverse presents unique challenges that may require further exploration and tailored solutions. Collaborative efforts involving the Council of Europe, member states, civil society, and other stakeholders will be essential to address these challenges effectively and uphold fundamental values in the digital age.

Technical standards provide flexibility and adaptability, while legislation establishes red lines and reinforces rights protection. Policymakers must strike a balance and prioritize areas where legislation is necessary.

Stakeholder involvement: Collaboration among different stakeholders is essential to establish common language and principles for the Metaverse. Ensuring that the Metaverse remains human-centric and aligned with values, human rights, the rule of law, and democracy requires ongoing partnership and involvement.

In conclusion, the Open Forum emphasized the need to recognize the potential and challenges of the Metaverse. It highlighted the importance of continued dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders to shape the Metaverse in a way that upholds human rights, the rule of law, and democratic principles while harnessing its potential for societal benefits.