“In mid-January, the news that Microsoft was investing almost $70 billion in the ‘metaverse’ hit the headlines. Yet it was only the latest in a series of such massive investments. Technology companies such as Google and Epic Games, brands such as Gucci and Nike, and even retailers such as Walmart are entering or even shaping the metaverse – and, of course, only a few months ago Facebook rebranded as ‘Meta’ to signal its commitment.

The metaverse is envisaged as a new way of interacting with various components of cyberspace – augmented reality, the combination of digital and physical aspects of life, three-dimensional technology, the ‘Internet of Things’, personal avatars, and digital marketplaces and content providers – to generate a more active, immediate and immersive experience. And this could respond to the crisis of long-established ‘social media’, disrupted by young users’ uninterest and regulators’ intense scrutiny.

As Microsoft’s deal indicates, however, this is more about money than meaning. Last June, the purchase of a virtual Gucci handbag for the equivalent of $4,000 in virtual currency, to be worn by an avatar, was emblematic of the economic transactions which may populate the metaverse.

Legally, so many issues arise. Who, for example, owns that bag: the buyer, the platform or the producer who rents it to a client? What happens if the platform does not work properly and the bag does not look pristine? Could another subject ‘steal’ it – and then what? Could the bag be ‘taken’ from one platform to another, just like carrying a handbag bought in one shop into another? If not, do anti-trust issues follow?”