How Privacy is threatened by Augmented/ Virtual Reality? What to Do?

11 July, 2018

How Privacy is threatened by Augmented/ Virtual Reality? What to Do?

With the advancement of technology, the internet can now easily discern your information like your age, location, shopping preferences, favorite movies, friends, and much more. There comes the risk of privacy getting shared. The cyber criminals may know the important information like your social security number, credit card digits, bank account access information, and medical history, etc.  The extent of privacy exploitation is further extended with smartphones which can shrink the zone of privacy. They make it possible with the help of apps capable to view where you are located all the times.

In present times, augmented reality and virtual reality is intimidating to deteriorate our privacy to an all new level. This ranges from understanding how we physically travel to the brain waves we release. It is true that the VR technology is yet in its early years; however, privacy supports the users by rapidly raising red flags concerning that the consumers don’t discern what Augmented/ Virtual Reality firms can garner from our utilization of their devices. It is anticipated that Augmented/ Virtual Reality worsens this threat to a complete new level. Moreover, its use can direct to a disentanglement of individual personalities and resultant violation of the individuals’ privacy rights.

What are Digital Footprints?

The idea of ‘footprint’ originates from a conventional investigative tactic of re-tracing the attempt of the criminal by discovering his/her movements. It moves back to create a sequence of associated actions leading to the performer. Nowadays, forensic scientists utilize footprints to trace the criminals. Similar to that, people too put down traces in virtual reality.

The fact is each and every action a person takes within a virtual world actually puts down a collection of thorough and analytical footprints. In this way, it creates archives of a person’s movements as well as social interactions which could make out conclusions regarding others’ personality, emotions, age, etc. It is also true that a digital footprint can fluctuate across every task that you do on the internet. This may include web history of your browser, comments mentioned by you on social media, email records, skype calls, etc.

Threats of the incursion of Privacy in Augmented/ Virtual Reality:

The aspect that makes virtual reality unique is not only the amount of data collected but the independence of that data. In the physical world, a detective creates an impression regarding a suspicious person and makes his/her personal biases and notions regarding him and the same is verified later on. However, it is found that the investigation of virtual-world data could be entirely unbiased. This is because it functions to record all the behavior and searches for patterns with the help of brute force.

The aspect that makes such kind of analysis the best is that machine learning algorithms could begin with an impartial “blank slate” every time. The research carried out in this direction suggests that virtual reality can offer diagnostic techniques that are more cost-effective and accurate. Moreover, they disclose much about psychological and physical identity. There are certain actions that might appear insignificant in a virtual world. This includes deciding to walk or run, the pace at which one types or ways in which an individual reacts to the virtual environment, offer intuitive clues regarding the individual’s identity.

In addition to the privacy concerns, the rising use of virtual reality too raises concerns regarding cyber-stalking and cyberbullying. The age-group who is chiefly susceptible to such types of crimes comprises of adolescents and teenagers. Furthermore, they can lay an outstanding impact on their social scope. The digital footprints rendered in AR/VR could be utilized by hackers to extract money out of victims. Also, forge replicates identities with malicious intentions.

Different type of data indicates new privacy risks:

Before few years, when the majority of applications were operating on laptop and desktop laptop computers, it is found that the data collection potentials of companies operating online services were restricted to things like browsing practices as well as interactions with user interfaces.

VR and AR headsets assimilate information of your head and eye movements along with every type of reactions you depict to diverse visual content. If they come with hand props as well as gesture detection technology then they will be capable to record more amounts of data regarding your physical behavior. It is found that this has been an area that had stayed closed to giant tech companies.

Out of many privacy challenges, one of the prime ones is that the VR/AR companies will face the concern of protecting the attention data they gather from their users. Similar to different companies that gather personal information, it is essential that they will need to be transparent regarding the way in which they store, how they manage and extract the data, how they share it and whether they do share with third parties and ways in which they secure it on their personal servers. Moreover, users must be cautious about the services they register or sign up for and ascertain that their data stays safe in the control of the companies that present them with applications and services.

The security risks of Augmented/ Virtual Reality:

Augmented reality will be about transferring information and graphics in the real world. Shoppers, gamers, professional workers and architects will depend on the information given by AR applications to make practical decisions. When hackers negotiate an application and begin showing false information as well as graphical objects on the AR display or glasses of the victim, they can lead to harm. In order to understand this, for example, suppose a doctor is inspecting on patients’ vital signs with the help of an AR display for presenting with the wrong numbers; in this regards, the doctor fails to lean to a person who requires instant attention.

For deceiving users, AR can turn out as an effective tool as a share of a social engineering proposal. The fake signs shown on the streets or over the top side of shops could misguide users into committing mistakes. In addition to that, the other potential attack is the defiance of service. In this, users who depend on AR displays for their job are abruptly discontinued from the flow of information they are getting. These types of things take place in all application domains. However, AR is specifically concerning due to the fact that lots of professional workers are anticipated to implement the technology to perform tasks in crucial situations, wherein if they are devoid of information access could lay terrible consequences. For example, a driver may abruptly lose sight of the road due to the point that his/her AR windshield transforms into a black screen.

It is found that generally, the VR security threats are slightly different, and perhaps they are somewhat less critical as compared to AR. The reason is the use is restricted to closed environments and also, it does not incorporate communication with the physical world. However, VR headsets encompass the entire vision of the user and this could be risky if hackers gain access to the device. They may begin manipulating content in some of the ways that would lead to the nausea effect to the user.

Foreseeing Identity and Behaviors:

Digital footprints can be prepared out of virtual reality, social networking sites, and online games. But, possibilities are there to forecast behavior and identity from digital video. Te research has found out the methods in which the face depicts emotion and the work in this direction is continued at a fast pace in last few decades.

Computer vision–based tracking mechanisms can automatically compute even the slightest tinge of facial movements. These kinds of facial expressions foresee resultant behaviors—for instance, blink rate, an alternative for fatigue which can attest to be helpful in foreseeing the identity and behavior of the individual.

The concept of utilizing tracking data to foresee behavior is now not new. It is known that in recent years, psychologists have been extracting language databases which can forecast many things regarding an individual. This includes identifying whether the person is stressed, facing trauma, or thinking for suicide. Thus, it becomes significant to be cautious of the level to which VR could be utilized for criminal purposes and restrict the potential exploitation by following some precautions.

What can be done?

It is impossible to have fully zero digital footprints; however, there are techniques which could decrease the effect when using virtual reality. Few of techniques include carrying out background research prior to making a connection with online proofs of other individuals, maintaining digital identities private except they are crucial to being shared with some other people, reporting false or deceptive identities quickly, etc. The security incidents must be thought while creating products and it is useless to consider it after they happen.

Concluding Note:

The virtual reality offers footprints that can disclose the identity of a person, the things they plan to do, and whether they would succeed or not. A virtual footprint informs us of many things regarding the identity. The physical footprints may be washed away with water if they are left in the sand; however, there are no waves to clear off the away digital footprints. Therefore, it is the best option to be cautious and safe while utilizing AR/VR technologies.


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