Everything we’ve seen from tech companies’ ideas of the so-called “metaverse” have been incredibly boring. Every inch of Meta’s virtual reality playspace Horizon Worlds, for instance, is a starched, corporate rendition of a 3D, interactive space.
The world’s largest entity of international law enforcement has apparently watched all those boring demonstrations and said “think your metaverse is boring? Hold my beer.”
On Wednesday, the International Criminal Police Organization announced they were launching the first “global police metaverse.” Interpol showed off its new venture into technology at its 90th Interpol General Assembly in New Delhi, India, where old men wrapped Meta Quest 2 headsets around their heads to participate in one of the most awkward and ill-fitting examples of the use of VR tech.
Interpol is essentially an international law enforcement investigatory and training agency that focuses on transnational crime. The body is controlled by a committee made up of representatives from member countries. The agency said its new tech is running through the agency’s secure cloud server, according to Interpol, and according to a statement from Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock, while the metaverse may seem “abstract,” his organization intends to support member nations in virtual worlds as well.
Though there really isn’t anything akin to a real “virtual world” for people to inhabit, at least not yet. There are various companies such as Meta and, to some extent games like Roblox, which contend they are real “metaverses” but are more akin to stranded islands than a continent where people can assemble online. There’s a question how much adoption these platforms will actually have, as Meta’s own employees don’t seem to want to use Horizon Worlds, according to internal documents seen by The Verge.
That isn’t stopping Interpol from trying to seem hip to emerging tech. The announcement video has a score that would give the U.S. Space Force anthem a run for its money with how over the top it is. In order to promote Interpol’s foray into the metaverse, the agency shows off 2004-era 3D models at a security checkpoint handing over passports to a fake security agent before doing a zombie walk away. In short clips they show doll-eyed doctors and law enforcement trainers standing around awkwardly, their hands flexing in unnatural ways to gesture at whatever low-resolution object is in front of them. One scene even showed these oddly-shaped dolls standing by a campfire with oversized marshmallows. The video ends with the message “A new world is here… Are we ready for it.”
At least these figures have legs, something that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said were “hard.” Though that’s not to say these Interpol avatars look good. The hand tracking is especially rough, as evidenced by the video.
In a Friday Fast Company interview with Unity CEO and metaverse proponent John Riccitiello, he gave a rather refreshingly honest take on what the metaverse actually could mean in practical terms. It could be something as simple as simulating car crashes for the sake of safety tests, but he said some of the other big ticket promotions like Zuckerberg’s beloved avatars doesn’t matter much. Fake people walking around a 3D environment might well be a distraction that takes away from more alternate reality-type experiences, like visiting a hotel room before you book it.
Interpol references its own global crime trend report to show that many of the most imminent international crime threats are happening online. These include ransomware, online scams, hacks, and more. The agency expects more crime in the metaverse involving crimes against children, data theft, money laundering, fraud, counterfeiting, sexual assault, and more. Early reports from Horizon Worlds show servers are already full up with people sexually harassing other users and using casually racist language.
In May, the World Economic Forum worked with several tech companies in its effort to define the metaverse where they noted obvious risks for users, including social engineering scams and even more misinformation.
And as much as this seems like an indictment of the metaverse, Interpol noted, “some of these threats are likely to present significant challenges, because not all acts that are criminalized in the physical world are considered crimes when committed in the virtual world.” Madan Oberoi, the agency’s director of technology, said by getting in early, they can “work with stakeholders to shape the necessary governance frameworks and cut off future criminal markets before they are fully formed.”
Though Interpol isn’t exactly clean as far as past actions are concerned. They have been criticized for acting on behalf of oppressive regimes like Russia and for issuing red notices to political dissidents from Syria and Iran and to the repressed Uyghur population in China. Even though Interpol has a stated position of political neutrality, such a police force that’s beholden to member countries’ whims may also be able to use metaverse technology to track political refugees.
Though much of this crime is happening outside any sort of virtual world, and despite promotions that seem to put more junk media tie-ins and commonly-used programs into a 3D environment, that hasn’t really been the case for crime, not when regular cyber crime is so lucrative. For example, crypto scammers and hackers are on track to make a record amount of money this year. Hackers have made well over $3 billion so far this year from crypto-related projects.