The XR Association is closely and actively engaging with leaders in civil society, academia, government, policy institutes, and corporations to address the unique privacy challenges XR technology presents. Earlier in 2022, XRA launched the Future of XR Advisory Council (XRAC) – an interdisciplinary group of outside advisors – to consider some of the toughest issues facing XR including Privacy. Of course, not every question has a simple answer, and the Council’s rigorous work is ongoing. But one thing is certain: user privacy is paramount to the XR industry.
These are XRA’s basic beliefs:
Privacy by design is the goal.
Privacy by design is a mantra of the XR industry, and manufacturers should work toward privacy-protective defaults for their devices. Because of significant engineering challenges, there will sometimes have to be trade-offs. For example, data storage and processing requires a lot of computing power – which means bigger, heavier hardware. So, storing your data on your VR headset would require the headset to be larger and clunkier. To keep the device compact, light, and untethered, information might be stored in the cloud. Industry scientists are continually working on solutions to engineering challenges like this one.
You should understand the technology you are using.
Although XR technology is complex, and most users don’t have the technical background needed to fully grasp its nuances, fundamental concepts can be explained in a way that every user can understand. The XR industry should provide opportunities for you to learn more about how XR technologies work and why certain user data is needed to create the immersive experience. XRA recently published an infographic to explain the basics as we follow XR user “Kayla” through her day as she uses VR, AR, and MR for a variety of experiences.
You control what data you share.
The collection and use of sensor data has an important role in creating the XR experience. For example, some virtual reality headsets use eye tracking to provide a more realistic sense of what appears in the user’s view and to reduce motion sickness. But that doesn’t mean the eye tracking data collected should be used for any purpose other than delivering the XR experience without your knowledge. Ultimately, giving users control over XR sensors will be important.
Privacy policies should be clear.
Transparency matters. Manufacturers should present their privacy practices in a clear, specific way and provide the opportunity for the user to decide what level of data collection they are comfortable with. Some immersive experiences are not possible without the collection and use of certain information. In those situations, the XR user and the XR technology provider should be partners in the XR experience – which means trust is essential. Nothing should be hidden or obfuscated.
Bystanders have a right to privacy, too.
Just as the XR user has a right to privacy, so does the person who inadvertently comes into the XR user’s space. While it is not possible to have complete privacy as a bystander in today’s world of ubiquitous sensors in both public and private environments, the bystander should – at the very least – have opportunities to learn XR technologies are operating around them.
Children are a collective responsibility.
Protecting young people is a top priority for all of us, and the XR industry has an important role to play by developing products that respect young people’s wellbeing from the outset. The industry should also provide parents and guardians the knowledge and the tools they need to support their kids’ use of XR technology for safe, positive, and age-appropriate experiences.