Crime and virtual worlds: the Australian take

Earlier this month, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) released an issues paper titled Crime risks of three-dimensional virtual environments.

Written by Deakin University’s Ian Warren and Darren Palmer, its focus is identifying the potential harms of 3D virtual environments, discussing best governance approaches and identifying areas for future research.

The foreword, as you’d expect, sums the paper up nicely:

Three-dimensional virtual environments (3dves) are the new generation of digital multi-user social networking platforms. Their immersive character allows users to create a digital humanised representation or avatar, enabling a degree of virtual interaction not possible through conventional text-based internet technologies.

As recent international experience demonstrates, in addition to the conventional range of cybercrimes (including economic fraud, the dissemination of child pornography and copyright violations), the ‘virtual-reality’ promoted by 3dves is the source of great speculation and concern over a range of specific and emerging forms of crime and harm to users.

This paper provides some examples of the types of harm currently emerging in 3dves and suggests internal regulation by user groups, terms of service, or end-user licensing agreements, possibly linked to real-world criminological principles. This paper also provides some directions for future research aimed at understanding the role of Australian criminal law and the justice system more broadly in this emerging field.

The paper overall is certainly well thought out and covers some ground as far back as the early 90’s with the now infamous Mr Bungle episode. As we’ve said in our own paper on policy and virtual worlds, establishing acceptable governance mechanisms is certainly key to future growth and success of virtual environments. Papers like this one from the AIC help to get the issue on the agenda, but even in my most non-cynical frame of mind, I doubt there’ll be much local progress in the near future. That said, kudos to the AIC for being at the forefront, no matter how glacial the progress may end up being.

Read the full report here.

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