What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment in which users can immerse themselves. With the help of VR glasses and associated accessories, users can move freely through this computer-generated environment and interact with each other and objects. VR distinguishes itself from existing media technology in two important ways.
First of all, VR is an immersive technology that completely immerses users in a computer-generated environment. Real-time embodied physical interaction with the environment is possible. For this purpose, VR sets cut off the user's senses from the outside world.
Secondly, VR is an intimate technology that collects numerous biometric data via sensors in VR glasses, such as body movements and facial expressions. The collection of this biometric data creates a unique profile of a consumer. This is also referred to as a kinemetric fingerprint.
Why has the Rathenau Institute conducted research into virtual reality?
In recent years, technology giants have invested billions in virtual reality. As a result, technology has overcome many technical barriers and the devices that are now on the market in terms of price, quality and user-friendliness are within reach of a million people.
Scientists, technology journalists, but also the industry itself, are concerned about the use of VR by consumers. We see a growing number of scientific publications in which important social and ethical issues are raised. That is why the Rathenau Instituut has carried out an investigation into the issues associated with virtual reality for consumers.
How did the Rathenau Institute conduct this research?
We have conducted a systematic literature study. We investigated both scientific and so-called "gray" literature, such as news reports and journalistic articles. We have structured and analyzed this literature.
Why does the Rathenau Institute call for the protection of consumers in virtual reality?
Our research shows that the immersive and intimate nature of VR leads to a multitude of ethical and social issues, such as in the areas of privacy, autonomy, physical and mental integrity, informed consent and access to technology. Properly informing and protecting consumers about possible harmful effects of VR is therefore essential. In VR, people provide their most intimate data and become vulnerable to market parties, but also to other people. It is necessary to inform consumers about the personal and intimate data that they generate in VR and how this can infringe on their privacy and autonomy.
What measures does the Rathenau Institute propose to protect consumers?
Political and social attention are needed to protect consumers. There must be a debate about rights in the virtual world. Can you use someone else's face or body for your avatar? Can you grope or kill someone in VR? It must be clarified what existing regulation, such as privacy legislation and consumer law, means for VR. Information about and restrictions on the use of biometric data are desirable, as well as further research into the long-term effects of VR.