With the arrival of the Oculus Quest 2, the VR world is abuzz; after all, who wouldn’t be excited about a more powerful and accessible headset? But we need to talk about the big elephant in the room: our data rights. To use the headset, Facebook now requires you to log in through a Facebook account, which has a lot of data. Not only that, but for the Quest 2 to work, it analyzes your whole room to understand the layout of your space; it’s capturing your voice, movements, how you laugh, stand, look, and feel.
I understand that we can’t stop these technological advances, but we should be having conversations about how we handle data in the future. Back in the 70s, the basic foundations and rules for the Internet were built. It gave clarity to how the industry was being developed, and we need to do the same today.
If we don’t start talking about it now, we will have issues like the Cambridge Analytics debacle happen again and again.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, ethics is, amongst various meanings, “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation,” but it also means “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.”
What does ethics mean to me?
Ethics means to do the right thing. It means not allowing harm to be done to others. It means doing right for the common people. It’s thinking about your actions and realizing that the actions you take today will have consequences in the foreseeable future. Ethics and XR should go hand in hand, but the current state of the immersive tech industry suggests otherwise.
Is Privacy Dead?
It is, but it isn’t. With technology invading our houses, everything has a built-in microphone. The conversations that we think are personal are being recorded somewhere on a server and can easily be retrieved by our products’ companies. You should ask yourself, how much technology do you allow in your home, and how much do you get rid of to have privacy? I foresee a future where we’re going to need hybrid features for everything, similar to muting your app’s microphone.
Technology Accelerates What Privacy Means
Privacy is different for each individual, but from my experience, privacy is the ability to be yourself without being judged. It’s not having to build walls to conform to what is around you. Thirty years ago, life was much more analog and linear. As someone who transitioned between the analog and digital world, I remember sitting down with pen and paper and writing down my thoughts. And if you had a private conversation at a park, the only people who would hear it were the people around you. But now, things have changed. You and I can sit down at a park or coffee shop and have a private conversation, but what do you see on the corner? A camera. People are taking pictures of themselves around you, and their phones have microphones. Technology has been allowed to invade our homes and living spaces to make our lives better; just take a look at Alexa or Siri.
What are We Sacrificing in the Process?
Maybe our lives are better, but how many of our rights are we giving away to have comfort? We’ve advanced so far and fast with technology, and consumers are forced to go with the flow. Is using these technologies really a choice, as we need many of them to be financially and socially sound in today’s world? We’re all in survival mode, especially during these last six months of COVID-19. Technology is essential because it allows those who don’t have access to opportunities a chance to do so.
With the data companies harvest from you (financial, biometric, interests, etc.), they can build the ultimate marketing engine. Think about Facebook or Google ads and how they target their audience.
With virtual reality, large tech companies are gathering the data that makes up your personality and how you do things. With access to your digital signature and biometrics, and if used correctly with machine learning, they may very well one day reverse engineer your psyche and create a double or persona of you and make money off of it.
Access to Data as a Human Right
In addition to water and clean air, you need a phone and data to survive and thrive in today’s world. With immersive technology, I think knowing what and where your data is should be considered a human right.
A World Where Individuals Profit Off Their Data
The question remains: will we allow companies to harvest our emotions based on the data that we give them to design products and make massive amounts of money without keeping the common people in mind?
If a business has a registered trademark, writing, saying, or slogan, they hire law firms who watch over their intellectual property rights and brand. Shouldn’t this also apply to individuals and their data? After all, one would think we are our own intellectual property.
Why can’t the data that we’re producing be compensated for so we can live and thrive in this world? Technology giants have made billions of dollars off their customers through a freemium model that is, frankly, unfair and unethical. Let’s build a platform that allows corporations and regular people to stand on a level playing field and start having these conversations.
Preventing a Dystopian Digital World
Virtual reality is wonderful, and the possibilities are endless, but we need to learn from our past mistakes. If left unchecked, Facebook and other tech giants will continue to build the foundations of a dystopian digital world. Pay attention to the red flags that tech corporations and governments are planting in the ground. If there is anything you take away from this article, I hope that you think twice about the information you put on the Internet and the data you give away for free for the sake of convenience. Who knows, maybe talking about the big elephant in the room and empowering ourselves with information is the first step to a brighter, more ethical future.