Meta Research Award for Yixin Zou

Under the call “People’s Expectations and Experiences with Digital Privacy requests for proposals”, the research is one of four awarded among 136 proposals submitted from 112 universities and institutions around the world in 2022

February 09, 2023

With the rising popularity of virtual reality (VR), social VR – in which multiple users can interact with each other through VR head-mounted displays in 3D virtual spaces – has the potential to revolutionalize social networking platforms and ecosystems. Users of social VR can meet, interact, and participate in shared activities like watching movies, playing games, or even collaborating at work. The social VR market is expected to grow at a 14.1% rate annually between 2021 and 2027.1

Despite the projected growth and promises of social VR, the technology raises a wide arrange of new challenges and questions regarding negative social experiences and interactions. For example, users report experiences with harassment, abuse, and discomfort in social VR; embodiment and presence in VR spaces make harassment feel even more intense.2 Social VR systems collect an extensive amount of data (e.g., conversations with other users, facial muscle movements, and even brain signals). While users might feel comfortable disclosing the information, they view the disclosure as an inevitable trade-off: giving up their (deeply personal) information in order to enjoy the benefit of the technology.3

Building on prior work, a joint collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Security and Privacy, North Carolina State University, and University of Maryland-Baltimore County now seeks to identify and quantify predictors of social VR users’ privacy preferences. Through a mixed-method approach, the researchers will first conduct interviews with end-users and privacy experts to gather preliminary insights into their preferences, then conduct experiments to quantify how different predictors (e.g., the activities one engages with in social VR, the types of information disclosed, and demographics) shape one’s preference.

The researchers hope to use the insights to inform the provisioning of user-desired controls, as well as possible changes in VR platforms’ data practices in ways that honor users’ preferences. The insights are particularly needed now that social VR is on the edge of gaining wide adoption, calling for interventions that address users’ privacy concerns and help them use the technology confidently and safely.

1 Global Social VR Market Size, Status And Forecast 2021-2027.


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