Virtual Reality… Privacy Risks???

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10 comments

  1. Awesome blog. Privacy is a sticky subject these days because on one hand we have all these “free” products/services like facebook and google but the cost is essentially privacy. In it’s current form I am fine with that trade-off but with virtual reality coming into play it is hard to say how comfortable I will be with it.

  2. Some great insights here! For me, reading about the extent to which virtual reality could impact our lives made me think much more deeply about privacy issues. Everyone hears about virtual reality and thinks about how cool it can be, but I think people will soon be forced to make a decision on whether or not they feel comfortable sacrificing more of their privacy in order to experience these technology advances.

  3. Interesting angle that I hadn’t previously considered. I’m not sure Oculus involves that much more of a privacy invasion than your mobile device, though. It already collects a ton of data on you. I hadn’t considered the 360 video angle though, but I bet that’s still a long way off. Of course, the solution is to stop using FB, but most people haven’t taken their concerns to that level yet, since they provide a whole lot of value in exchange for the data.

  4. i think their may be a revolution on what “privacy” is and how it is viewed in the eyes of the law. It is starting to look like anything that happens in the public domain is going to be considered public property. I dont think too many new problems will arise tho, id dont see too much of a different between what VR captures and what a normal video camera does.

  5. Interesting post, as mentioned a few times in class, “Privacy” is a tough topic. I think any time you used any kind of online service you automatically give up some privacy just to get the system to function the way you want it to. I think the same thing will happen with Oculus, I’m sure there will be things you can control but just like profile information and picture is necessary for facebook, Oculus will need its own basic information.

  6. I liked reading this article, even though it’s a little scary what the future could hold. I did not know anything about Oculus, and definitely am more informed now because of this post. I definitely agree that privacy risks could be magnified by this acquisition. I’m sure that as this all gains more attention, more rules and regulations will start to be formed around this…or at least I hope!

  7. I really enjoyed your post as I don’t know much about VR and its implications on our everyday life. I had never thought about virtual reality from a privacy perspective, but it is kind of scary to see what the future holds for us with VR. I agree with Sahil that I’m sure we will be able to control many aspects of Oculus as consumers similar to how we control our Facebook privacy settings. I also think that as virtual reality becomes more popular there will be many more rules and regulations set by the government. Overall, very interesting and informative post!

  8. I think in general people don’t like to think about the negatives, or at least are willing to temporarily overlook them. But this raises some key issues that I haven’t thought about, at least. I don’t think I’d ever be an early adopter of this sort of technology; I’d rather wait it out to see how other people use it and feel about it.

  9. I have never thought of all the different ways companies like facebook have access to some of our information. Moreover to the physical and behavioral world. But I also think that VR will be just another platform to display content on. I picture the VR as a TV attached to your eyes. If you use it for videogames, there won’t be many ad’s to spam you. If you use it as a TV to view content, it’s the same ad’s as you would see on a normal TV. Maybe they would be more appealing to you? Probably, but as an advertising student. Ad’s have to develop to the new world and continuously developing as the consumers get more hard to engage. Great post. Lets see what VR does to us!

  10. yifanhong04233 · ·

    Great post! Even though I have never tried any VR equipment, I have to admit that they are important parts of our future life. Maybe they will be as popular as smart phones in the future. We can avoid Facebook by not using it, but we could hardly avoid an equipment that is so popular in real life–therefore, privacy really matters. Facebook can monitor what we read and our past history, VR might influence what we see and where we go! Be cautious!

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