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At Forrester’s Security and Risk Summit today, the research company discussed how the demand and the collection of an individual’s data will evolve as digital experiences such as the metaverse become more immersive and intelligent.

Immersive platforms are already driving companies’ investments, changing customer expectations and shaping new engagement models. Yet, while many companies have plans to utilize personal data, only a few know how to keep it safe. 

Forrester explained that fundamental pillars such as safeguarding an individual’s data, trusted identities and attributes will play a key role in achieving the promise of immersive digital experiences of the future.

An interactive future

Enza Iannopollo, principal analyst at Forrester, said that the metaverse market is expected to be worth $800B, yet the environment remains relatively understudied from a security and privacy standpoint. 

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“With the onset of digital avatars, users will be able to interact and express themselves more efficiently through audio and text,” said Iannopollo. “But the aspect of privacy within these immersive platforms is concerningly complex and still a challenge for many. Therefore it is vital to establish privacy practices and safeguard the users.” 

Iannopollo said that developments within the metaverse domain must follow the evolutionary path of digital experiences to develop concrete privacy practices. 

“Existing privacy rules show no enforcement on virtual experiences,” she said. “We found that although privacy concerns many users, it is yet to be completely understood and generalized. Hence, it is important for developers and organizations not to take the human-centric development approach for granted.”

Data privacy concerns loom large

Iannopollo explained that while virtual and augmented reality can create next-gen experiences for sectors such as healthcare, education and retail, it can also enable psychological and emotional manipulation of its users at an unimaginable level. 

A recent study by Cornell University demonstrated how virtual reality (VR) attackers could covertly ascertain dozens of personal data attributes from seemingly-anonymous users of popular metaverse applications, shedding light on the unique privacy risks of the metaverse.  

In the study, 30 participants playtested what they thought was an escape room game in VR. Behind the scenes, a malicious program comprising a Monte Carlo diagnosis model was able to infer more than 25 personal data attributes, from characteristics like height and wingspan to demographics like age and gender, within just a few minutes of gameplay. The program also successfully captured emotional characteristics such as player depression levels. 

“As notoriously data-hungry companies become increasingly involved in VR development,” Iannopollo noted, “this experimental scenario may soon represent a typical VR user experience.”

Because of this, Iannopollo said that eliminating privacy gaps and establishing new best practices for data privacy would be key. “Following a privacy-enhancing UX design practice that acknowledges cognitive biases and human errors, respects user autonomy and prioritizes choices that preserve user privacy would play a critical role in human-centric metaverse development.”

Image source: Forrester.

The future of immersive experiences

Forrester predicts that digital experiences will thoroughly blend in with physical experiences in the next 10 years, with digital identities carrying privacy meanings in a highly contextual model of embedded governance

“In the next 10 years, data governance is expected to be embedded within the design principles of mainstream environments. As a result, we believe that embedded privacy will become a crucial part of the DNA of digitally immersive experiences in the future,” said Iannopollo.

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