Interpol says metaverse opens up new world of cybercrime

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By Dina Kartit and Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON (Reuters) – Global police agency Interpol said it is preparing for the risk that immersive online environments – the “metaverse” – could create new types of cybercrime and allow existing crime to flourish on a larger scale.

Interpol member countries have raised concerns about how to prepare for potential Metaverse crime, Madan Oberoi, Interpol’s executive director for technology and innovation, told Reuters.

“Some of the crimes may be new to this medium, some of the existing crimes are made possible by the medium and taken to a new level,” he said.

Phishing and fraud might work differently when augmented reality and virtual reality are involved, Oberoi said. Child safety issues are also a concern, he said.

Virtual reality could also facilitate crimes in the physical world, Oberoi said.

“If a terrorist group wants to attack a physical space, they can use that space to plan, simulate and launch their drills before attacking,” he said.

Earlier this month, the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol said in a report that terrorist groups could use virtual worlds for propaganda, recruitment and training in the future. Users can also create virtual worlds with “extremist rules,” the report said.

If Metaverse environments record users’ interactions on the blockchain, “this could make it possible to track everything someone does based on an interaction with them – and provide valuable information for stalkers or extortionists,” Europol said.

The metaverse has become a tech buzzword in 2021, with companies and investors betting that virtual world environments will gain popularity and mark a new phase in the evolution of the internet. Facebook announced it would change its name to Meta in October 2021 to mark its shift towards that idea.

But so far this vision shows little sign of realisation. Meta’s stock value plummeted Thursday as investors expressed skepticism about Metaverse betting spending. Sales of blockchain-based assets, which represent virtual land and other digital possessions, have also fallen sharply over the past year after a period of frenetic growth. (This story has been refiled to correct the reference in paragraph 9 to say Meta’s name change was announced in October 2021, not November.)

(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft and Dina Kartit, Editing by Bernadette Baum)