the Rathenau Institute have a breakthrough of immersive technologies may lead to problematic data collection

03/11/2023
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The further development of immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality technology, and by extension the metaverse, leads to new types of data being collected from users. As a result, influence and manipulation of citizens lurk. Current legislation is not sufficient to curb these and other societal risks of extensive data collection by large technology companies. This is according to a new publication by the Rathenau Institute.

Researchers from the Rathenau Institute note that the continued development and potentially wide application of immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, speech technology or augmented reality, may involve the collection of more and more new types of data about users, such as pupil reflexes, iris scans, neurodata and voice data. The technology literally gets closer to the user's skin and senses, blurring the boundary between the physical and virtual worlds.

The new publication Immersive Technologies provides an overview of current applications in sectors such as healthcare, education, entertainment or infrastructure. It also paints a picture of the impact on society in the expected further development and wide application of immersive technologies.

Large-scale collection of body and behavioural data poses risks to privacy, democracy and security, among others. Parties holding this data, such as companies or governments, could, for instance, misuse personal information by using data for purposes other than those for which it was collected. The further development of immersive technologies also reinforces the social risks of digitalisation that are already known, such as an even greater dependence on large technology companies, disinformation, virtual aggression or addiction.

The Rathenau Institute concludes that current legislation and policy are not sufficient for the responsible further development of these technologies. Societal debate is needed on, for example, which types of personal data may or may not be collected, under which conditions and for which specific applications.

'Under current legislation, companies are generally allowed to collect all kinds of data after user consent. But if devices collect increasingly intimate data, such as pupil size or brain waves, from which emotions or thoughts can be read, we need to ask ourselves whether we actually know what we are consenting to and whether we want to put that responsibility on the user,' argues research coordinator Mari√ętte van Huijstee. 'It's not too late to make agreements on citizen protection and developer responsibility.'

Immersive technologies came about on the basis of literature research, interviews and working sessions with experts. Recommendations focus, among other things, on better protection in laws and regulations of users and strengthening the capacity of regulators. The study was conducted at the request of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

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