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Blogtober Virtual Reality

Privacy and Your VR Data

Full transparency, I started this post two years ago after F8 and the release of the Oculus Quest. Since then, Oculus Connect turned into Facebook Connect. Facebook is requiring Facebook sign ins on all Oculus devices, and I’m wondering, where does VR have left to go?

There are still lots of people who love the Quest and don’t think Facebook is that bad. They’re willing to keep using Facebook so they can have access to Quest features and software. But I can’t help but think, just like I did then – what about VR and privacy?

First, what’s the big deal? Facebook has been around for over a decade. Why now should be concerned? VR hardware tracks way points than a computer or cell phone. It needs to in order to work properly. Location data, body movements and room dimensions, IP addresses, browser, and device are all types of information tracked.

Each company stores and shares this type of information a bit differently. Let’s take a look into how these privacy questions affect the different ways we use VR.

Data privacy in education

Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash

Virtual reality is entering the classroom, even more so with the 2020 pandemic upsetting the classroom environment. Distant learning is being brought to the forefront as kids attend “virtual school”. Since people learn better by doing than just seeing or hearing, virtual reality offers a great solution to virtual school. However, before VR is brought into the classroom or home, parents know privacy concerns of their kids being tracked in VR.

Why are we giving Facebook access to our living rooms, body, and way we move? The latest from F8 says the Quest uses cameras to map your room. They claim they only store that data on your local device, but it can still be hacked and they can change their policy in the future.c

More pressing is Facebook’s requirement to have a Facebook account in order to use their VR headsets. I doubt parents want their kids (depending on their age) having a Facebook account, let alone logging into it on a school’s device. According to this source, many schools say social media can’t be on a HMD if it’s going to be used in the classroom. That makes Facebook’s devices a No Go.

VR and AR are advertisers’ dream

“Why should we care about promotions garnered specifically for us? Because it’s a reminder that unknown eyes are watching.

via gearbrain.com

Marketing New Realties authors Cathy Hackl and Samantha Wolfe wrote how AR and VR are a marketer’s dream. The explained how to use the technology to get to know users (as well as avoid marketing VR pitfalls).

The technology we use is constantly evolving, which means the technology companies use to reach their consumers evolves too. Data from 2016 showed “75 percent, of those on Forbes’ World’s Most Valuable Brands list, have created some form of virtual or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or are themselves innovating and developing these technologies.”

“The wealth of data that you get from these devices is invaluable.” Says SideQuest CEO, Shane Harris. “Being able to monitor where people look, what they do, how they react and record that data that’s the whole new frontier to be able to advertise to different type of people.”

Privacy Example: Facebook Horizon

The privacy and security settings that concern users (body movement and eye tracking, location mapping, actions in VR) can be useful for marketers looking to reach their audiences in new ways.

That being said, Horizon is public place where Facebook has full domain. Facebook Moderators can listen in at any time. If someone is reported, the last few minutes of gameplay is sent with the report. That means Facebook is constantly recording everyone’s gameplay, even if it all isn’t reported.

Types of privacy concerns

Who is watching? Government agencies, foreign interests, hackers, companies…

We’re dependent on companies who collect data from our devices to keep it safe. If companies don’t take data security seriously, like information about how we behave in a virtual world, it makes it easy for hackers to get their hands on it.

“The more people know about you, these are all digital bread crumbs that are being collected to create this mosaic of your life,” says Levin. “This mosaic is the platform that they use to commit crime, either against you, or against someone else in your name.” Says Adam Levin, chairman and founder at Scottsdale, Arizona-based IDT911, an identity protection company.

Shifty privacy isn’t VR’s fault

Virtual reality in itself isn’t good or evil. It’s the companies behind the devices and software that we need to be concerned about. Facebook decides what we see, who can post, and what they post. If Facebook has that control, imagine what they can do with VR data. Virtual reality isn’t just clicks and likes. It’s our faces, body movements, emotions, voices – it’s everything we are and it’s tracked, recorded, and monetized.

Organizations like the Cyber XR Coalition and XR Safety Initiative (XRSI) to address privacy issues in XR and Spatial Computing. The XRSI framework “emphasizes PREVENTION, not protection…” actions to preserve data privacy.

The positive hype around virtual reality makes it difficult to ask the tough questions like,

  • What physiological impacts of VR?
  • Did something happen in VR or real life?
  • How does the brain adjust for behavioral and emotional regulation?
  • Who decides how VR data is protected and uses? The company, the government…?

More research and investigation is needed for the study of any negative side affects of immersive technologies like virtual reality. Understanding how our brains work in VR, the transition back to reality, where and how our data is used (and if it’s protected) can help us all use the technology with ease of mind.

Hopefully, by addressing these issues now, as VR is coming into its prime, we can avoid some of the pitfalls we’re now experiencing with social media and social media companies.


Featured Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

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