Sorry, hate to sound like a Debbie Downer but… I thought it would interesting to discuss the possible future privacy implications that could arise as VR technology continues to advance.
While there is much excitement, promise, and curiosity surrounding virtual reality and how it could potentially revolutionize the way people interact with one another, it may pose significant privacy risks through the use of its product and data such as manipulation of user data, data mining, and security breaches.
Since Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift, users have inquired about the safety of their data and user privacy. As has been stated, “Facebook has repeatedly raised the ire of its users by changing privacy policies and further angered the public when it revealed that it has run psychological experiments on users.” The fact that Facebook has a past of secretly running experiments on users without their knowledge to gage emotional patterns is troubling because user knowledge can be easily be manipulated, seen as valuable, and sold to advertisers who are interested in selling their products on Facebook. Adding a virtual platform in the midst of these types of privacy breaches and coupling it with the social media giant, Facebook, may have a huge continued impact on what consumers buy because social media has such strong impact on its users.
Imagine, virtual shopping with advertisements strategically popping up in this reality; advertisements that were chosen by marketers who already know everything about you and have used this knowledge to predict your shopping patterns. This personalization within the virtual experience alone could control the way users shop, mold user interests, detect user preferences, and convince users to buy products by making users think they need something. Whatever privacy risks were present prior to Oculus being acquired by Facebook may be magnified by this acquisition. In addition, given that privacy concerns could be considered a pivotal piece to virtual reality unrest and that Oculus fans as well as potential users are not necessarily fans of Facebook’s history of intentional privacy breaches for profit through target advertising, these privacy concerns could potentially repel users from using the virtual reality technology and cause early adopters to abandon it.
For instance, for Oculus to work, it collects “precise, low-latency positional tracking”, this is a necessity for the virtual experience to produce a natural and realistic user experience. Oculus records eye movement, head movement, eye focus, length of time of eye focus, and all manner of user behavior to enhance and create the most intuitive virtual experience. As has been reported, for the virtual reality experience to work, Oculus needs access to the user’s senses. Oculus Rift is “seeing someone’s web search history is one thing; having access to visual senses, even in a simulated space, suggests something closer to reading the mind.” Someone else can quite possibly choose how you live. Oculus Rift can be used for data surveillance in which consumers may be effectively controlled by the creators who make these realities, and more notably, those who fund them can have an impact on consumers’ views as well as what consumers think they need to buy through some flavor of marketing and advertising.
One may speculate about how protected Oculus Rift might be and the chance that they are affected by information driven organizations, such as the largest social media network in the world, Facebook. As stated, “By establishing itself in VR, Facebook is likely setting itself up to harvest and experiment with intimate data from that domain as well.” Virtual realities are far beyond a website; they are on a trajectory that surpasses clicking and scrolling. With a virtual domain, potential protection infringement could grow to the point where all conduct in a virtual situation can be followed, and each component of a virtual domain can be controlled. As a result, it is not just the privacy concerns posed from Facebook’s purchase of Oculus that are serious, but a far more frightening and dangerous privacy concern is the way the new functionality could allow strangers into someone’s everyday life.
At a past Facebook conference, Mark Zuckerberg discussed Oculus and identified how Facebook could adopt a new spherical video that gives viewers a 360-degree view of the world. Facebook was advertising the product as a teleportation system. The theoretical application of Facebook’s news feed being capable of holding spherical video is that any user could share a 360-degree video of their current location, such as the beach at sunset, when the product is working as desired by the user. Moreover, as a privacy concern, Facebook’s ability to post spherical video increases the concern of the modern day butt dial dramatically. A world where users can post spherical video in a world in which mistakes can bring unwanted eyes into a bathroom or, as has been seen with video enabled baby monitors, can bring hackers into any private moment in a person’s life. Oculus in the hands of a predator makes everyone a potential victim of privacy violations.