There are huge privacy implications that are coming with the technological roadmap of VR, and Facebook is sort of using Oculus as a technological shield to be able to develop this technology independent of the deeper advertising implications of the data that is going to be made available. When I asked Mitchell if the business models need to evolve beyond this type of privatized surveillance, he said that these types of new models are not something that Oculus is thinking extensively about right now. They’re mostly focusing on getting as many people in VR as possible. Oculus is working on the low-level implementation of VR while Facebook can think about what they’ll be able to do with all of this data.
In wrapping up his thoughts on privacy, Mitchell said, “So in summary: Very committed to user privacy. It’s something we take very seriously. It’s something we’re really focused on. We’re committed to taking care of user’s privacy. And you’re asking the right questions, keep asking them. I think right now, everything is in a good place across the industry. But that could change, and that’s something for folks like you to keep chatting about.”
Indeed this is something that the entire VR community needs to keep talking about, and it will change towards a direction that’s not a good place unless some of the deeper open questions listed down below are addressed. I’d also recommend listening to these interviews below about privacy in VR for more in-depth discussions.
Other recommended interviews about Privacy in VR:
- #493: Is Virtual Reality the Most Powerful Surveillance Technology or Last Bastion of Privacy?
- #516: Privacy in VR is Complicated & It’ll Take the Entire VR Community to Figure it Out
- #517: Biometric Data Streams & the Unknown Ethical Threshold of Predicting & Controlling Behavior
- #518: Advanced Brain Monitoring EEG Metrics & Experimental VR Treatments for Neurodegenerative Diseases
- #514: Tobii Recommends Explicit Consent for Recording Eye Tracking Data
Here are some of the open questions that should be asked of virtual reality hardware and software developers:
- What information is being tracked, recorded, and permanently stored from VR technologies?
- How will Privacy Policies be updated to account for Biometric Data?
- Do we need to evolve the business models in order to sustain VR content creation in the long-term?
- If not then what are the tradeoffs of privacy in using the existing ad-based revenue streams that are based upon a system of privatized surveillance that we’ve consented to over time?
- Should biometric data should be classified as medical information and protected under HIPAA protections?
- What is a conceptual framework for what data should be private and what should be public?
- What type of transparency and controls should users expect from companies?
- Should companies be getting explicit consent for the type of biometric data that they to capture, store, and tie back to our personal identities?
- If companies are able to diagnose medical conditions from these new biometric indicators, then what is their ethical responsibility of reporting this users?
- What is the potential for some of anonymized physical data to end up being personally identifiable using machine learning?
- What controls will be made available for users to opt-out of being tracked?
- What will be the safeguards in place to prevent the use of eye tracking cameras to personally identify people with biometric retina or iris scans?
- Are any of our voice conversations are being recorded for social VR interactions?
- Can VR companies ensure that there any private contexts in virtual reality where we are not being tracked and recorded? Or is recording everything the default?
- What kind of safeguards can be imposed to limit the tying our virtual actions to our actual identity in order to preserve our Fourth Amendment rights?
- How are VR application developers going to be educated and held accountable for their responsibilities of the types of sensitive personally identifiable information that could be recorded and stored within their experiences?