Currently, there are only a few major players in the VR space, with Oculus
Rift, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive leading sales of
the technology. Some of these VR devices are produced by
corporate giants that already maintain voluminous data about people and their online
behaviors. For example, Oculus Rift is owned by Facebook, and Google Daydream
is a product of Google.
Despite the potentially heightened sensitivity around VR
data, these companies do not often have more strident privacy polices for their
VR devices than their other digital services. Most VR device policies state that they use
cookies and/or beacons to collect information and share aggregate data with
third parties. The devices also use data for marketing purposes and store
information about location, IP address and social communication.
Just as blockchain technology is being employed by such projects as
the Brave Browser to track data about user preferences on the internet and
increase consumer control over their web experiences, blockchains can be
leveraged by VR companies to securely track data and empower users with more
choices in the way their information is being used.
In an emailed response to questions about issues of data privacy in
VR, Ian Forester, CEO of VR
Playhouse, noted that such challenges are pervasive across digital
“As a user advocate, I'm troubled by the way personal data is
monetized by the web economy and thinking about how data provided by wearables
like eye-tracking headsets would be used has always given me pause,” he said.
Forester mentioned High Fidelity’s announcement of a Virtual
Reality Blockchain Alliance as a positive
development in the VR space. Per the announcement, the aim of the alliance is
to harness blockchain technology to create an independent identity system for
VR platforms. According to High Fidelity’s founder Philip Rosedale, users of
different VR platforms belonging to the alliance will be able to determine
which information they share and keep private.
Even if issues of data security are addressed, the amount of data
required for VR experiences is enormous. Scaling VR services is currently
hindered by a lack of infrastructure to support the movement of extraordinarily
large files. Many in the VR space agree that speeding up networks from 40
gigabytes per second (gbps) to 100 gbps won’t be enough.
By the time new speeds are accommodated, infrastructure
supporting 400 gbps will be required. Blockchain
technology may help address the issue of scale by facilitating peer-to-peer
data transfers within distributed networks. Filecoin, for instance, incentivizes users to share surplus data
storage with other anonymous users within the decentralized network.
Regardless of the ultimate solution for scaling VR services, Forester
believes decentralization will remain an important component in addressing
issues of data security.
“Even if a centralized organization has the best intentions when
it starts and is run by people with the highest ethical and moral standards,”
he said, “we can't trust that the organization will always be run by those people
or that it won't be hacked.”
If leveraged effectively, blockchain technology could support the
emergence of life-changing VR services with implications for entertainment,
healthcare, education and more. Additionally, the combined contributions by alliances,
startups and protocols could facilitate the growth of a decentralized VR landscape
that is not owned by a powerful few data-rich corporations, but instead
populated and controlled by its users.