The Ethics of Virtual Reality and Advertising

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Virtual Reality has quickly moved from a theoretical idea to one of the most exciting new technologies. As a result many companies have invested in or developed their own version of the VR headset, from Facebook’s acquisition of the Oculus Rift, to Google Glass.

Now so far, they have been primarily used within the gaming industry, but there is a huge potential for VR headsets to expand into our everyday lives. More and more companies will incorporate VR into their strategies, and advertising will be no exception.

But, when we think about the very nature of advertising, there are interesting ethical dilemmas raised when it comes to Ar/VR and marketing.

For a start for VR headsets to work, they have to have ways to measure head movements.

Imagine you are wearing a set of AR glasses in a supermarket, and they store head movement data. The glasses know what products you look at, and for how long. With this data, the supermarket could tailor its advertising strategy so that it is completely personal to you.

The fact that these movements will be stored raises privacy issues quite unlike data storage complaints of the past. Issues which it is essential that any VR Development Agency must fully understand.

It will not be long before these VR headsets are able to read heart rate fluctuations and measure the dilation of your pupils in response to external stimuli.

Now this would be a good way to test products before they go to market, to find out people’s subconscious reactions to the design, or to find out whether a particular advert has the desired effect.

But, again, if companies can find out what appeals to you on a subconscious level, then they can use data that has never been available before to sell things to you. The use of data of this nature raises some questions about what should remain private.

Moving away from the field of advertising, and going back to VR gaming throws up another challenge. Violence in video games is a long standing issue for some, but VR allows for players to actually engage in acts of violence, in a virtual world.

If devices can be linked, and players can interact with each other online, then virtual assault or murder becomes a possibility. Now these kind of things happen in video games all the time, but on a platform and immersive and realistic as VR has the potential to be, ethical issues about virtual crime become more difficult to answer.

VR is going to be at the very pinnacle of technological advancements in the future, but there are ethical questions that need to be answered, especially when it comes to privacy and the storage of data.

Regulation of one form or another will required, but if used safely, we can see that the data that VR will be able to access will have a wide range of possibilities.