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Is the Metaverse a ‘Global Panopticon’?

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Without question, new and advanced technologies such as emotion detection and affect recognition technologies, neurotechnologies, and XR and other metaversal technologies, among others, raise significant privacy-related concerns. Each new category of technology penetrates a layer deeper into our personal space, threatening to erode the boundaries of our inner lives and inner selves.

This article was excerpted from “Beyond Data: Reclaiming Human Rights at the Dawn of the Metaverse,” by Elizabeth M. Renieris.

Moreover, the rendering and datafication of these activities into digital information raises traditional and novel data protection concerns, despite the inadequacies of existing laws that pertain to personal data and frequently require the identifiability of individuals. And whereas conventional legal frameworks typically regard privacy as an individualistic concern, new and emerging technologies increasingly have implications for individuals, groups and society as a whole too.

Extended reality (XR) technologies are a clear example of the simultaneously personal and collective nature of these privacy concerns. In order to fuse virtual and physical or “real-world” components together, XR technologies typically involve the collection and use of biometric identifiers and measurements, real-time location tracking and “always-on” audio and video recording technologies that create detailed, live maps and models of spaces or places and record ambient sounds.

From the perspective of an individual using the technology, XR devices tend to capture information about the individual’s voice or vocal tone, iris, pupil movements and gaze, gait and other body movements, location information, device information and identifiers, and more, raising obvious concerns about the privacy and security of data harvested about that individual.

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