Beyond VR for data visualization

What you need to know about big data and VR

28Jun

Due to the increasing prevalence of virtual reality (VR) equipment and applications in our society, people have started to think about the technology in new ways that extend beyond gaming.

For example, VR can create better data visualizations that let data scientists more efficiently spot trends in gigantic data sets, interact with data in seamless ways and even interpret statistics via multi-dimensional methods that allow analysts to hear aspects of content instead of just viewing it.

But despite the transformative effects those benefits have, it’s crucial for people to also think about the potential downsides related to big data and VR.

Some people aren’t happy with data collection policies

When the Oculus Rift headset came out in 2016, people clamored to be among the first to own it. That made the product in short supply for months due to the excessive demand.

However, as people began using the headset and looking closely at the associated documentation, they became alarmed at a section of the Oculus Rift's privacy policy that mentioned the company could collect information about users’ movements via data captured by the integrated camera.

Another part of the privacy statement discusses how the company may collect information about users’ locations with help from the gadget’s GPS signal and data about the closest cellular towers.

People became so concerned that Senator Al Franken of Minnesota got involved and posted a series of questions for the Oculus Rift CEO on his website. They wondered why the company reserved the right to collect data that seemed unnecessary. Franken was also curious about the security of the collected data and how the company might profit from the information received.

A corporate communications representative from Oculus Rift clarified that the organization wants to do everything it can to improve the user experience. Data collection is one of the ways the company aims to meet that goal — by understanding how and where users interact with its products. 

Privacy will remain a concern

VR is only gaining momentum. Revenue from the VR industry is expected to go from $3.7 billion in 2016 to over $40 billion by 2020. Ironically, VR’s popularity is on the rise at the same time that people are becoming more attuned to how companies use their data.

That change is due in part to the news of several severe breaches and allegations of irresponsible data practices. When people hear about these situations, they start to wonder if they’re doing enough to ensure companies don’t get access to more data than they need.


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It’s not virtual reality itself that’s causing problems. It’s the associated companies collecting data in eyebrow-raising ways which many people view as excessive.

Although Oculus Rift has received a substantial amount of privacy-related backlash, other VR companies have similar standards for dealing with data. All the major brands, including Google Daydream and PlayStation VR, collect location information and share aggregated content with third-party organizations.

The potential for increased advertising opportunities

All the VR companies are also upfront about the fact that they’ll use the collected data for marketing purposes. One difference with some of them is that they mention only relying on that data for internal campaigns, whereas others give the content to outside companies.

A brand’s view of this practice is that the more they know about users, the easier it’ll be to serve up relevant content. Then, the audience isn’t as likely to get annoyed, and companies theoretically get closer to their marketing goals.

On the other side of things, VR users could think, “But I want these companies to know as little about me as possible. They don’t need to know so many details.”

What can proactive users do?

Users need not stay in the dark about how VR companies plan to use their data. Before purchasing VR equipment from a company, they can research the specifics of the associated privacy policy, including whether it’s possible to not give consent related to particular types of personal information.

Individuals also need to remember that companies can change their policies at any time and don’t always inform consumers when they do. If people get in the habit of reviewing privacy policies every couple of months, they’ll stay as updated as possible while enjoying what VR has to offer.

Data collection has become commonplace

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that almost every tech-related action people take, whether it’s to play a game on an app, order a product on a website or post a picture of a pet on a social media feed, involves data collection of some kind. The VR industry is not at all unique in its data collection practices which some people consider invasive.

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