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What challenges could the metaverse bring to the workplace?

Lewis Silkin Ireland’s Linda Hynes explores some of the legal issues that may come up if the future of work is in the metaverse.

The metaverse is a virtual world, that uses augmented and virtual reality (VR), where people can meet and interact with one another. For many employers, the first experience of it may come from using VR tools to holding conferences and events.

Microsoft has said it will be adding 3D virtual avatars and environments to Teams this year so it may be coming to a workplace near you soon. Eventually, employees may spend more time doing their jobs in a virtual world, which could be another pivotal change in the workplace, following other changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The metaverse offers many benefits, for example the ability to work remotely in a more connected way with colleagues – but it also brings up a range of new Irish employment law issues and challenges.

Diversity, inclusion and avatar design

You need an avatar to take part in the metaverse. In the online gaming world, choosing a character or avatar is mainly about digital escapism.

When the metaverse reaches workplaces, it’s more likely that people will choose more photoreal avatars – ones that look like themselves or, at least, how they perceive themselves to be. Avatars, however, may generate some issues around diversity and inclusion.

An early issue for employers could be jokes or offensive comments about people’s choice of avatar, particularly given the initial novelty of VR in the workplace. This could fall under the category of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment under the Irish equality legislation.

There could also be disputes about avatars which deliberately poke fun at others, for example an avatar which looks like a public persona but with certain traits emphasised.

Irish employment law would allow employers to discipline employees for such inappropriate behaviour, although HR departments may need to develop and enforce guidelines around avatars and ways of working in the metaverse, as happened with social media use when it became an everyday part of the workplace.

Irish equality law currently recognises nine protected grounds against which a person should not be discriminated. These include gender, disability, race and age. Some of these grounds may be visible in real life and others may not, but the metaverse could disrupt this.

Which protected grounds will be visible and which will not in the new VR world? Oculus says it is looking at subtle differences and emphasising just how customisable its avatars are going to be.

The invitation to pick an avatar that reflects the real you raises a range of diversity issues. Will some employees gain the benefit of picking avatars that express their real gender identity? Will others find ways to show characteristics that they cannot easily show in real life, such as autism?

Will others be frustrated by not being able to select an avatar that represents their combination of protected characteristics? When would it be OK for employees to ‘try on’ protected characteristics they don’t have?

What about recruitment exercises that use VR? Are these issues which employers will be expected to regulate and what will it mean, for example, for unconscious bias which is a problem that already exists in workplaces?

Research shows that women are more likely to experience motion sickness when using VR. How will this be dealt with by employers? If VR as part of the working day is insisted on by the employer, is this discriminatory towards women? Could it widen the gender gap in workplaces if female employees don’t want to engage in VR because it makes them feel ill?

Online harassment applies in metaverse

Irish employment equality legislation has a wide definition of sexual harassment, which is any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Harassment in relation to any of the protected grounds is also prohibited as is any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds.

In both sexual harassment and harassment, the conduct is defined as having the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person.

This could include the workplace in the metaverse. Employers can be held vicariously liable for acts of bullying, harassment and discrimination of employees carried out by employees on social media sites so the same would extend to the metaverse. Proper training and measures to reduce potential metaverse bullying and harassment will need to be considered.

Metaverse misconduct

Many types of misconduct in the metaverse will be covered by existing employer policies and Irish employment law, but policies may need to be amended to make it clear that working in the metaverse is still a workplace.

For example, colleagues who are abusive to each other in a virtual environment would be subject to normal disciplinary rules. Unfair dismissal law will apply in the same way it does now and conduct in the virtual workplace will be subject to investigation and fair procedure as it is with ‘real’ working – although investigating the VR environment could present logistical challenges for employers.

Will new types of misconduct emerge in the metaverse? For example, if the metaverse is going to include non-player characters (NPCs) like the online gaming world, ie, characters not controlled by an employee, will being rude to an NPC virtual assistant count as an act of misconduct, or will attacking an NPC virtual assistant represent an act of harassment?

Can employees be disciplined for this behaviour? Will this type of behaviour go against the culture and values of the organisation?

Other metaverse issues

The metaverse raises a host of other workplace issues, which may not be addressed by existing employment laws.

Jurisdictional issues: People in the virtual world can be anywhere in the real world, so whose employment laws will apply?

Risks to confidential information and security: In the ‘anyone-could-be-anyone’ world of the metaverse, will there be more hacks or corporate espionage?

Health and safety: Can you wear a VR headset all day long or will there be health and safety risks? Should the risk of cyberbullying in the metaverse be considered by employers in their risk assessments under health and safety law?

Ownership in the metaverse: Will non-compete and IP clauses need updating? Could metaverse providers access or use company information which is shared within their environment?

Employment status and working time: As new ways of working emerge, which ones will be defined as employment relationships? If you are online as your avatar, is this working time that should be recorded and monitored? Working time obligations are already in conflict with remote and flexible working patterns that have emerged since the Covid-19 pandemic began, how will they deal with the metaverse?

Being avatar ready

While we won’t see workplace relations claims brought by Warlock999 naming Bigboss1 as a respondent for a while, this could happen in the future. Previously, employers and employment law dispute forums and courts have had to catch up with the use of social media platforms by employees.

The law will no doubt also need to get to grips with the range of new issues that will come with working in the metaverse. A VR workplace could offer exciting opportunities, but employers will need to be conscious of the good and the bad when their employee avatars assemble in the future.

By Linda Hynes

Linda Hynes is a partner at Lewis Silkin Ireland in the employment, immigration and reward division.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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Aviation and Telecom Industries Reach Compromise on 5G Deployment

The Voice Of EU | In a significant development, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest mobile network operators in the United States, have agreed to delay the deployment of 5G services following requests from the aviation industry and the Biden administration. This decision marks a crucial compromise in the long-standing dispute between the two industries, which had raised concerns over the potential interference of 5G with flight signals.
The aviation industry, led by United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, had been vocal about the risks of 5G deployment, citing concerns over the safety of flight operations. Kirby had urged AT&T and Verizon to delay their plans, warning that proceeding with the deployment would be a “catastrophic failure of government.” The US Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the issue further highlighted the need for a solution.
In response, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) head Steve Dickson sent a letter to the mobile networks, requesting a two-week delay to reassess the potential risks. Initially, AT&T and Verizon were hesitant, citing the aviation industry’s two-year preparation window. However, they eventually agreed to the short delay, pushing the deployment to January 19.
The crux of the issue lies in the potential interference between 5G signals and flight equipment, particularly radar altimeters. The C-Band spectrum used by 5G networks is close to the frequencies employed by these critical safety devices. The FAA requires accurate and reliable radar altimeters to ensure safe flight operations.

Airlines in the US have been at loggerheads with mobile networks over the deployment of 5G and its potential impact on flight safety.

Despite the concerns, both the FAA and the telecoms industry agree that 5G mobile networks and airline travel can coexist safely. In fact, they already do in nearly 40 countries where US airlines operate regularly. The key lies in reducing power levels around airports and fostering cross-industry collaboration prior to deployment.
The FAA has been working to find a solution in the United States, and the additional two-week delay will allow for further assessment and preparation. AT&T and Verizon have also agreed to not operate 5G base stations along runways for six months, similar to restrictions imposed in France.
President Joe Biden hailed the decision to delay as “a significant step in the right direction.” The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and South Korea have also reported no unsafe interference with radio waves since the deployment of 5G in their regions.
As the aviation and telecom industries continue to work together, it is clear that safe coexistence is possible. The delay in 5G deployment is a crucial step towards finding a solution that prioritizes both safety and innovation. With ongoing collaboration and technical assessments, the United States can join the growing list of countries where 5G and airlines coexist without issue.

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