Virtual reality (VR) is changing everything. This technology has the potential to transform human experience, improving quality of life and enabling innovative applications across a range of sectors. But technology can also be used to invade our privacy. 

And it’s just as important to be aware of our privacy within virtual reality as it is with our normal, everyday interactions with the internet. The possibilities for VR and AR are endless and some companies have already started dipping their toes into it.  But it’s important for consumers to understand what kind of information they are sharing and make educated decisions on who they allow to access their data.

Virtual reality has the potential to redefine how we interact with the world and how we communicate with each other. This change has implications for everything—from healthcare and law, to journalism and entertainment. New types of vistas have the power to reshape our relationships with people, places, and things.

It also portrays artificial and imaginary feelings and surroundings through an individual’s senses such as sight, hearing, taste, touch, etc. It requires high-tech equipment such as high-definition smart phones, headsets, and gloves along with a super-fast internet connection and computer to run it.

As the primary senses of our bodies are invaded by virtual reality, we lose awareness of our physical surroundings and even our bodies. While this is a fantasy for many users, there are vital risks involved.  The privacy issues surrounding AR/VR devices are substantially different than those that plague other technology devices. These devices generate much more data and can expose your personal information to a host of risks and threats.

Data collection technologies tied to VR can include location, biographical and demographic data, and biometrics. The ability to gaze-track and BCI (Brain Computer Interface) allows for entirely new information about the consumer. 

  1. User’s representation/ virtual presence that enables them to interact with virtual entities: Avatars, digital messages/ recordings, real time communications. These technologies are increasingly capable of mapping out the unique anatomy of everyone’s brain. 
  1. Location and Demographics: Geolocation, Lidar, name, interests, age, social media presence and activity logs. While these features are intended to advance virtual reality, they also increase the opportunity for third parties to make discriminatory remarks or compromise user security.
  1. Biometric Details/ User Profiles: For instance, recommendations or biological identification. 
  1. Online Credentials: For instance, user’s login details, contacts, payments and other banking details, IP addresses, real world assets, etc. This information may help content providers to make the experience with their audience more personal, but at the same time, it also exposes a user to fraudulent and malicious content.

It may not be more than five years before virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality technologies have become so ubiquitous that they are broadly used for commerce, education, surveillance and even warfare. It is paramount now to start thinking about how we can mitigate the potential negative impacts of these systems while maximizing their positive benefits.

Many have pointed out the potential dangers of head-mounted video cameras, sound recording, and motion tracking technologies. Investors have fretted about surveillance companies buying up VR companies at valuations above $45 billion. 

Securing Reality is the process of making sure that a virtual reality platform is free from bugs, hackers, and trolls. It encompasses ensuring the consistency of a VR world from moment to moment and quest to quest while also working with developers to make sure they are building systems that aren’t going to be hacked or exploited by nefarious users or anti-social griefers.

Current privacy risks are primarily brought about through two factors, a lack of awareness on how much information the system is collecting and a lack of control for the user over what information is being collected. In order to mitigate these problems an individual needs to have complete understanding of what data about them might be collected by the system, and have full control of that collection. This can be done through an open disclosure/ transparency to users if there is any attempt at collecting personally identifiable information. 

Mitigation strategies include educating users, implementing encryption, testing for vulnerabilities, strict access control, and legal protections. 

Virtual reality technology is also converging with neural implants that can map out the unique anatomy of everyone’s brain.  When it does, soon anyone with an implant will be able to edit and change their subjective experience of the world. This capability will bring about boundless opportunities to better ourselves. It will also bring about catastrophic risks. And this same technology could strip us of our anonymity and undo many social norms that give us privacy by default.

 1. Opportunities and threats posed by new technologies

 2. VR/AR start-up valuations reach $45 billion (on paper)

3. Digital Frontier: Where Brain-computer Interfaces & AR/VR Could One Day Meet

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