VR: Should Consumers Be Worried About Security & Privacy?

VR may be a fun technology and it may offer up a growing list of exciting games and other content, but like any other technology VR poses a security risk. Not one that is necessarily impossible to manage, but certainly one that could cause things to go awry if not properly handled. Since VR headsets are linked to your computer there's opportunity for hackers and cyber criminals to access your private data. VR devices are linked to the internet by way of your computer and internet connectivity makes it much easier for virtual reality technology to become a target for hackers. That being said, it might not be likely that VR in its current state is a worthy target as adoption of the platform is not exactly mainstream compared to other internet connected devices like computers, smartphones, and smart home products. Once more consumers begin to start using VR technology though it could become more of an attractive target. It's also worth noting that there isn't a widespread security issue that's making all VR headsets or even a majority of them vulnerable to some terrible malware or other type of security risk. This is merely conjecture, though it would be foolish to think that security would never be a potential issue.

Having said all that, potential VR security risks could stem from a number of different places. VR is a growing platform for games and other media entertainment, some of which will undoubtedly cost money and at some point when VR as a platform is more developed, should a new form of virtual currency come into play that requires real-world private information for payment that opens up a pool of data that could be especially valuable to anyone with less than ideal intentions should they get their hands on it. This leads to the question of how much data between an internet connected computer and the VR headset is encrypted?

While encryption is not necessarily a complete wall of protection against anything malicious it certainly helps to prevent others from getting a hold of private and sensitive information that you may want to keep private, and encryption in this day and age is much more important than in past years. Hackers are consistently searching for new ways to exploit technology and find any means of securing a profit through vulnerabilities, so while there may not be any major risks to VR right now that doesn't mean that there won't ever be. Virtual reality is interactive and there are new and exciting ways to do tons of things you might normally use a controller or a keyboard and mouse for, like controlling games, typing in personal information, or selecting content. As VR gets more popular, and more people use it, what's to stop hackers from leveraging these new interactive interfaces to phish information from users like emails, passwords, or bank information?

Aside from these sorts of security risks and vulnerabilities, another potential issue with VR when it comes to personal user information and data is privacy. Whether or not VR proves to be a medium for companies to violate consumer privacy on a large scale remains to be seen but VR is simply one more area where users are entering in personal details that could be lucrative to companies. Oculus for example is now owned by Facebook and while Facebook certainly seems to value their user privacy, some would likely argue that violation of that privacy has come into play once or twice. Social networks these days know more about their users than some of the user's own friends and family members, and VR is tapping into social media in more ways than one. While privacy might only be an issue in more minor ways, such as targeted advertisements, this is still a potentially invasive tactic that users could simply come up against. The image below is an example of a VR ad service, and it's one that businesses and publishers legitimately use for serving up ads in 360-degree VR videos, but while legitimate options like this are already available there is always the chance that some ads could surface which are more fluid in terms of being invasive.

It's not exactly VR-related, but one only needs to look at the recent issue with Burger King using a new commercial that was launched yesterday to trigger people's Google Home speakers to advertise the Whopper, which Google promptly disabled. This wasn't a huge deal, but some consumers were rightfully annoyed by it. Virtual reality could be a target for advertisements in this sort of invasive way as well, leveraging user data to serve up unwanted ads. Of course, this sort of situation may not be apparent until it happens. The point is that it's possible and it's a scenario that consumers may want to consider when investing in VR, much like with any other technology that requires the use of personal information, and likewise the companies that are creating hardware and content for VR platforms will want to be thinking just as much on how to protect user data from potential security and privacy risks, or risk losing consumer trust.

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