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Go incognito mode: How we can protect our privacy in metaverse


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The image below shows me standing in a “Virtual Escape Room” created by academic researchers at UC Berkeley’s Responsible Decentralized Smart Center. The simulation world required me to complete a series of quests, each unlocking a door. My goal is to move from the virtual room to the virtual room, unlocking the door by solving puzzles involving creative thinking, memory skills, and body movement, all naturally integrated into the experience. experience.

Louis Rosenberg inside the Virtual Escape Room created by researchers at UC Berkeley (2022)

I am proud to say that I have moved beyond the virtual maze and back to reality. Of course, this was created by a research lab, so you can expect this experience to be more than you can imagine. And you’re right – it was designed to demonstrate significant privacy concerns in the metaverse. It turned out that while I was solving puzzles, moving from room to room, researchers used my actions and reactions to determine a bunch of information about me. I am talking about deeply personal data that can be identified by any third party when I participate in a simple virtual application.

Since I’ve been involved in virtual and augmented reality for decades and have been warning about the potential dangers for years, you’d think the data wouldn’t surprise me. But you were wrong. It’s one thing to warning about the risks in the summary; it’s something else to experience privacy issues firsthand. It is actually quite shocking.

That said, let’s get into the personal data they were able to gather from my brief experience in the escape room. First, they were able to locate me. As described in a recent newspaper For this study, metaverse apps often ping multiple servers, which allows researchers to quickly predict my location using a process known as multilateral. Even if I used a VPN to hide my IP address, this technique would still find my location. This isn’t shocking, as most people expect their location to be known when they’re online, but it’s a privacy concern nonetheless.

Digging deeper, researchers were able to use my interactions in the escape room to predict my height, arm length (wingspan), forehand, age, gender, and other parameters. my physical level, including how quickly I can bend over and respond to stimuli. They can also determine my eyesight, whether I am colorblind, and the size of the room in which I am interacting and make basic assessments of my cognitive abilities. Researchers were even able to predict whether I would have a certain disability.

It is important to point out that the researchers used standard hardware and software to conduct this series of tests, simulating the capabilities that a typical application developer might use when building virtual experience in the metaverse. It should also be pointed out that consumers currently have no way to combat this – there is no “incognito mode” in the metaverse that hides this information and protects users against this type of review.

Well, there weren’t any protections until the researchers started building a software tool they called “MetaGuard” that could be installed on standard VR systems. As described in a recent newspaper By leading researchers Vivek Nair and Gonzalo Garrido of UC Berkeley, the tool was able to mask many of the parameters that were used to determine my physical characteristics in the metaverse. It works by cleverly injecting random offsets into the data stream, hiding physical parameters like my height, wingspan, and mobility that could otherwise be used to predict patterns. age, sex and health characteristics.

MetaGuard image from Nair and Garrido

The freeware tool also allows users to hide their handedness, voice frequency range, and fitness level as well as conceal their geospatial location by circumventing triangulation techniques. . Of course, MetaGuard is only a first step in helping users protect their privacy in an immersive world, but it’s an important demonstration that consumer-grade defenses can can easily be deployed.

At the same time, policymakers should consider basic protection role-playing rights for users globally, protecting against intrusion tracking and profiling. For example, Meta recently announced that its next VR headset will include face and eye tracking. While these new abilities have the potential to unlock very useful features in the metaverse, such as allowing avatars to show more realistic facial expressions, the same data can also be used to track and user’s emotional profile. This could allow platforms to build predictive models that predict how individual users will react to multiple scenarios, even allowing responsive advertising optimized for persuasion.

Personally, I believe the metaverse has the potential to be a deeply humanizing technology that presents digital content in its most natural form to our perceptual systems – as immersive experiences. At the same time, extensive data collection in virtual and augmented worlds is a significant concern and can require a wide range of solutions, from protection software tools such as MetaGuard to metaverse rules. For those interested in promoting a safe metaverse, I point you towards an international community effort called Metaverse Safety Week that’s happening in December.

Louis Rosenberg, PhD was the original pioneer in augmented and virtual reality. His work began more than 30 years ago in laboratories at Stanford and NASA. In 1992, he developed the first interactive augmented reality system at the Air Force Research Laboratory. In 1993, he founded the original VR company Immersion Corporation (public on Nasdaq). In 2004, he founded the original AR company Outland Research. He earned his doctorate at Stanford, has been awarded more than 300 patents for VR, AR, and AI technologies, and is a professor at California State University.

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