Once again, the era of virtual and augmented reality could lie ahead.
After years of promises and false starts, Covid-19 has driven a record number of workers remotely and could finally initiate the regular use of VR and AR at home – or at least give technology a boost on the way to becoming mainstream.
A PwC report last year predicted that by 2030, nearly 23.5 million jobs worldwide would use AR and VR for training, work meetings, or better customer service. According to a report by ABI Research earlier this year, the VR market was forecast to grow by 45.7% per year before the pandemic, which would exceed $ 24.5 billion in sales by 2024. Virtual reality used in businesses is expected to grow from $ 829 million in 2018 to $ 4.26 billion in 2023, according to ARtillery Intelligence.
Companies like Spacial, creating something like a virtual reality version of Zoom, have seen a 1,000% increase in usage since March, according to director Jacob Loewenstein. IrisVR, which specializes in immersive architecture and planning software, can barely keep up with the demand for new subscribers, said CEO Shane Scranton. In the meantime, Accenture, a multinational professional services company, uses VR exercises for new recruiting techniques.
VR-focused global accelerator companies Vive X raised around $ 60 million last year with the largest rounds of funding in healthcare and corporate training. And Facebook's VR headset brand recently released an Oculus for Business platform for commercial use.
Challenges that lie ahead
But with the expansion of VR and AR, according to legal experts, a number of new misuse possibilities could arise: Data protection and data problems primarily concern, but cases of tortious acts and even harassment are possible. As with the Internet and email, new technology laws take time to catch up. And the company takes time to figure out best practices. Some matters can be easily regulated by applicable laws, while others require precedents.
Employee avatars take part in a virtual meeting via the platform of the VR company Spatial.
The question may not be whether immersive technology is finally ready for the public, but whether we are ready for it.
Experts agree that privacy is the biggest problem. "With VR / AR technology, we are not collecting a large amount of information that has generally not yet been collected," said David Hoppe, author of Esports in Court, Crimes in VR, and 51% Attack. There are legitimate reasons for companies to record physiological reactions such as eye movements or heart rate from users. For example, a company may want to prevent VR disease. This information could also be used to derive psychological responses – measuring sexual preferences, propensity to violence, and level of empathy. And this data is very valuable for those who are trying to reach consumers, Hoppe explained.
"Trying to maintain the privacy of these types of things will be very important," said Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution's Technological Innovation Center. If an employee claims that their expected privacy has been violated, they could sue an employer or a company, depending on the laws of their state. The most controversial cases will surely end up in court. "The problem is that the judges are not trained in new technologies," said West.
According to the Perkins Coie survey, healthcare will be the area most affected by immersive technologies next year. For example, physicians can use AR body mapping to display medical statistics directly on a patient, use VR in training and education, or even perform surgery on a virtual version of the patient's body. In the meantime, the patient could use the technology for things like physiotherapy.
A Pandora's box at work
However, according to Ann Marie Painter, a lawyer specializing in labor law at the firm, the practices of the records are a problem. "This is the first and most important problem as the interactions are recorded and maintained in an AR / VR environment," said Painter. "The law may not have caught up there yet."
According to a survey by the XR Association, which represents manufacturers of headsets and technologies across the industry, 54% of those surveyed said that they would update their data protection guidelines and information on consumer data in 2020.
But more undesirable behavior is possible. According to Schuyler M. Moore, corporate entertainment lawyer at Greenberg Glusker, tort law will be a "big" problem in the virtual world. "All kinds of things you can do personally are pretty easy to do in the VR world," said Moore. A 2016 survey by research company The Extended Mind and social VR platform Pluto VR found that 49% of female and 36% of male respondents reported sexual harassment while using VR.
An office with augmented reality functions that uses the Spatial virtual platform is displayed with an employee avatar and a personal employee wearing a VR headset.
The possibilities of identity in the virtual world will also expand. "In what widths do employees have to choose their avatar?" said Hoppe. Or maybe more problematic, how can you see someone else? With AR glasses, the author explained, one could look provocatively at another – in different clothes or even in a different gender.
With protective language laws and slower tech adoption rates, the U.S. is behind the curve in regulating virtual spaces compared to other countries. In South Korea, a cybercrime investigation team has been investigating crimes in virtual worlds and multiplayer games – such as money laundering or fraud – since 2003.
In 2007, the Belgian police investigated a user for "virtual rape" in the popular world game Second Life. The Chinese cyberspace administration recently banned "fake messages" created with virtual reality. And many European countries have banned virtual child pornography, although it's protected by the first change in the United States.
All types that you can commit personally are fairly easy to commit in the VR world.
Schuyler M. Moore
Corporate entertainment lawyer at Greenberg Glusker
Workplace abuse is likely to be a hiatus as technology has not reached the mainstream. However, one can imagine that the litany of opportunities for crime and abuse in the virtual world will be transferred to the corporate sector.
There have been some notable cases in the United States. The developer of the AR game Pokémon Go settled a lawsuit last year with people who have suffered from PokéStops near their homes. A termination suit filed last year alleged that Second Life's parent company had misused user data and allowed money laundering and simulated child abuse. A Second Life art gallery was sued for trademark infringement, and a class action lawsuit in 2012 included at least 57,000 users who lost in-game virtual property.
"The internet was there a while before internet-specific laws were passed. Some of them were good, some were bad," said Eugene Volokh, author of an article from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review on legal challenges posed by VR and AR. Although laws generally apply regardless of technology, these laws can be supplemented in the future, he explained.
There are several reasons why Volokh believes that actions in virtual worlds can circumvent the law as a whole. He describes the first as the Bangladesh problem, which refers to the ability of people in a virtual space to be around the world. For example, prosecution of harassment between users in the United States and a distant locale such as Bangladesh is unlikely. "Law enforcement will be more difficult because more people will be half a world away," said Volokh.
The other reason is that many problems that occur in VR and AR are solved by their hosting platforms. It could be analogous to Zoom's solution to a number of "zoom bomb" incidents in which unwanted callers jumped into video conferencing. The company just added encryption and privacy controls. A VR Heckler could instead be muted by a moderator instead of being virtually pulled out of the venue by law enforcement. If someone walks down the street in an offensive avatar, you can just block that.
According to Loewenstein, Spacial's goal is to optimize both security and user freedom. For example, within the program you have the superpower to teleport yourself to different rooms and spaces – possibly a little too close to a colleague. Although they haven't had any complaints yet, they are working on a "physical bubble" for avatars so that you can't get close to another employee.
"We are trying to be comprehensive in order to unleash the superpower, but not too much so that you can violate social norms," said Löwenstein.
Regarding data protection, Loewenstein found that his company only collects metadata. As a subscription service, he said Spatial had an incentive to keep its customers' information safe. He said the hardware chain should be searched for ways to deal with data in a shady way.
At IrisVR, Scranton said that social norms in virtual space are found out pretty quickly. "The deeper you dive and the more you can see other people, the more it feels like you are interacting with that physical person," Scranton said.
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