By Igor Magun
Virtual reality products like the Oculus Rift may open new worlds to explore, but they could also reveal intimate details about us to their manufacturers, according to Ryerson professor Avner Levin.
“The language is that they would be able to collect basically any kind of physical movements that you’re using,” said Levin, who is also the director of Ryerson’s Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute. “That opens up the door to a whole new category of information about individuals that might be used for other purposes down the line.”
As the uses for virtual reality expand over time, manufacturers will have access to data that is increasingly intimate. For instance, the adult entertainment industry is interested in taking advantage of virtual reality, according to Levin. They’re going as far as exploring the use of haptic technology that would allow users to feel physical sensations in line with the content they view.
“I think for most people, there is still associated a high level of privacy and intimacy with anything that they have to do around the adult entertainment industry,” said Levin. “If you’re signing onto a device that … allows them to capture all of that information, you could be quite concerned.’”
In an emailed statement to The Eyeopener, Oculus said they do not currently share collected data with their parent company Facebook, nor use it for advertising. Both are possibilities they may consider in the future, however.
Levin gives the company credit for being honest about the way they can use customer data.
However, Levin suggests that companies should be asking users for explicit permission to expand the way they gather and use data from these devices.
But privacy policies are commonplace beyond virtual reality as well, and they are a flawed concept, according to Levin. The policies typically don’t give customers the option to negotiate the terms of the agreement.
“We have to change what we’re doing as a society,” Levin said. “To move away from this idea that people just sign on to things, and really regulate what are the uses that a company is allowed to have with respect to information.”