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Securing VR Experiences With Distributed Ledger Technology

We’re only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the applications of virtual reality (VR).

For one thing, incredible amounts of data must be recorded and tracked to personalize VR experiences. And this need renders data security a major concern. Some players in the VR space are looking to blockchain technology for potential solutions concerning issues of data privacy and security.

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.

Enter the Blockchain 

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 technologies.

“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.

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