At this point, we’re all fully aware that everything you do can be put online, and whatever’s online can be seen by a lot of people (unless, of course, it’s on this blog).
With the proliferation of virtual reality, augmented reality, and all the technology that comes with it, things are only going to get worse. Idiots in the government like FBI Director James Comey are afraid of of citizens with cell phones recording police activity, but citizens with cell phones have much worse problems in a world of drones and spherical video.
First, let’s look at spherical video in public places.
360-Degree Video in Major Events
This year’s Super Bowl was one of the most tech-focused ever, which is no surprise since it was located in Silicon Valley. Levi’s Stadium was filled with cameras and CBS Sports introduced the idea of virtual reality and spherical video during the game.
While the marketing and hype machines applauded the usage of this technology in giving fans new perspectives, I watched everything after having attended CES and VR Fest. Having an understanding of how VR works and where it’s going brings about whole new levels of privacy concerns. Take Virtually Live for example.
Virtually Live is one of many services developing AutoCAD-driven models of stadiums around the world. With less than a 6-second delay, Virtually Live will soon allow you to don a VR headset and watch any sporting event in a major stadium from wherever you want. You can stand on the line of scrimmage, sit in any seat, watch from a private VIP box, or even walk through the tunnel with your favorite team.
Players are already being sensored so that player models can easily be integrated into these 3D environments. While exploring the demo mockup at VR Fest, I was awed at how much control was provided. Adding DVR functionality and bringing in friends in a Skype-like chat room, it felt much like Clockstoppers. One can only imagine how cool it could be to watch the SuperBowl like this.
Except allowing such a sandbox environment is going to inevitably attract different types of viewers. It won’t be long before people start exploring the crowd, sitting on a hot woman’s lap, taking screenshots of women in inappropriate positions, and making everything inappropriate.
And that’s just sporting events. VR and spherical cameras will soon be at music festivals and other major events like Coachella, SXSW, Electric Daisy Carnival, and even Burning Man. Can you imagine the kinds of inappropriate things we may see in these types of crowds?
Some random person filming you with a shitty smartphone camera seems like an outdated fear in a world in which someone can explore you in a fully virtual environment.
Drones and AR in Public
If you’ve ever attended any of these major events, you likely know there are signs posted (and typically even contracts signed) stating you agree to be filmed for promotional purposes while on the property. This is just the way things are, and we agree to give up levels of privacy while attending major events. We don’t necessarily agree to give up our privacy in such ways while in public, however.
Augmented reality and drones are becoming more and more popular out in public, so we’re now faced with the reality that we could be watched and digitally monitored any time we leave the house. With AR and drones, the real-time privacy concerns are much different than with VR.
Digital overlays and facial recognition technology have the ability to violate our privacy in ways similar to New York’s infamous stop and frisk law. You never know whether or not someone looking at you in public is receiving Mission Impossible-level information about you. Data collection and analysis is a huge problem for privacy, and both AR and drones only increase the real-time problems.
Security concerns related to AR are nothing new. In fact, it’s been around for about a decade now, and Cornell University published a great breakdown of privacy concerns back in 2013.
Consumer Reports focused on drone privacy earlier this year. It turns out your property extends a mere 83 feet into the air, and only the FAA can control whether or not drones can fly above your property. State laws make it illegal for a drone to take photos or video of you on your property without permission, though it’s a difficult case to prove.
You’ll have an issue identifying the drone’s operator, and even if you could, they could easily erase any illicit video or pics before the police show up. And there’s unfortunately not much you can do if the drone’s owner is the police.
With Amazon looking to put delivery drones in the air, things are only going to get even more fuzzy.
Hacking Concerns While Using Mixed Reality
And, of course, there’s the issue of how secure you are while using this technology. When on a computer, it’s relatively easy to keep an eye on your network and ensure everything is secured. After donning a VR headset, you become immersed and effectively distracted. Things can be happening on your desktop that you’re unaware of.
VR headsets like Occulus Rift, HTC Vive, and even PlayStation VR utilize sensors and cameras that could be exploited by hackers to see exactly where you’re located and facing within your room. This is valuable information for anyone wanting to take control of your computer to search for private files, run malicious files, or execute remote commands.
Drones such as DJI’s popular Phantom often use cell phones for control, and the drone itself has a direct WiFi connection with your smartphone. Because of this, you’re extending the range in which someone could hack into your phone. If someone takes control of your drone, they can also effectively gain access to your smartphone, which houses much more than just the drone control app.
A similar problem occurs when using AR – bluetooth is enabled to connect AR headsets like Google Glass to connect to your smartphone. This leaves your phone open to exploitation by anybody within range, who you may not readily notice while being distracted by all the shiny things in your field-of-view.
This isn’t to say we should avoid any of these technologies – that would be a ludicrous proposition. I’m in no way afraid of technology – in fact, I welcome our new robot overlords. I just want to make sure people understand that with these new technologies comes new privacy concerns at a time when we’ve barely been able to touch upon the privacy concerns from the previous generation of technology.
While rushing out to get the latest drone, AR, or VR tech, make sure you fully understand what this technology is doing. And if you don’t have any of this technology yet, understand that many of us do, and, like motorcycles on the road, just because you don’t have it doesn’t mean you don’t need to be aware.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work appears in High Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Street, and Hardcore Droid.