From increased surveillance to the emergence of virtual worlds, we delve into what could make headlines in the tech world in 2022
By Zoe Tabary
LONDON, Jan 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From tackling the coronavirus pandemic to working remotely and communicating with loved ones, digital tools, platforms and policies increasingly affect how we live our lives.
Here are five tech trends to look out for in 2022.
Cryptocurrencies are shifting from the fringes of finance to the mainstream, with major investors, companies and even countries moving to embrace digital cash as an asset and routine payment vehicle.
In September, El Salvador became the first nation to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, while the U.S. city of Miami is mulling the use of bitcoin for tax payments and city workers' salaries.
But countries like China and Nigeria have moved to ban some or all cryptocurrency transactions, which tech experts say could move crypto mining - the energy-intensive computing process through which digital currency tokens are created - underground.
This year is likely to see more curbs, as authorities fear these privately operated, highly volatile digital coins could undermine their control of the financial and monetary systems, increase systemic risk, promote financial crime and hurt investors.
From virtual goods to AI-powered avatars that can be hired out by companies, a fast-growing digital world is pushing ownership and privacy rights into unchartered territory.
In October, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta Platforms Inc and announced it planned to create thousands of jobs and invest billions in the so-called metaverse – a virtual environment where people can meet, play and collaborate.
The term is popular in Silicon Valley, with Microsoft having mentioned converging the digital and physical worlds, while online games like Roblox and Fortnite are already considered to be part of the metaverse.
The buzz has fuelled debate about how to protect basic rights as more and more activities move online.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted governments, from China to the United Arab Emirates, to impose surveillance measures such as drones and phone data tracking to trace infections and keep tabs on the population.
But human rights experts fear that measures brought in to protect citizens in exceptional circumstances, when most people accept they are needed, could outlast the current crisis and impinge on privacy rights.
Authorities also routinely use surveillance tech like facial recognition to tackle crime, leading activists to warn that such measures can target minorities and marginalised communities disproportionately.
For example, they note, policing technologies predicting where crime might occur can be informed by biased datasets, leading them to wrongly identify Black people and people of colour as more likely to offend.
Social media companies have come under fire for their content moderation practices, chastised for failing to tackle hate speech online and facilitating the spread of fake news.
In December Rohingya refugees filed a $150 billion class-action complaint against Meta, arguing that the social media company's failure to police content and its platform's design contributed to violence against the Rohingya community.
Tech companies in the United States - where most of the major firms are headquartered - are granted broad protections under a law known as Section 230, which shields online platforms like Facebook and Twitter from legal responsibility for what others say or do on their sites.
That has left content regulation to the companies themselves, exposing them to criticism.
Internet curbs and shutdowns around the world have disrupted communication and complicated everyday life for millions of people over the past year.
Such measures are increasingly being used by authoritarian governments to curtail people’s ability to organise, voice opinions and participate in governance online, digital rights activists warn.
(Reporting by Zoe Tabary @zoetabary, Editing by Jumana Farouky. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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