Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 1–29 | Cite as

The Convergence of Virtual Reality and Social Networks: Threats to Privacy and Autonomy

  • Fiachra O’Brolcháin
  • Tim Jacquemard
  • David Monaghan
  • Noel O’Connor
  • Peter Novitzky
  • Bert Gordijn
Original Paper


The rapid evolution of information, communication and entertainment technologies will transform the lives of citizens and ultimately transform society. This paper focuses on ethical issues associated with the likely convergence of virtual realities (VR) and social networks (SNs), hereafter VRSNs. We examine a scenario in which a significant segment of the world’s population has a presence in a VRSN. Given the pace of technological development and the popularity of these new forms of social interaction, this scenario is plausible. However, it brings with it ethical problems. Two central ethical issues are addressed: those of privacy and those of autonomy. VRSNs pose threats to both privacy and autonomy. The threats to privacy can be broadly categorized as threats to informational privacy, threats to physical privacy, and threats to associational privacy. Each of these threats is further subdivided. The threats to autonomy can be broadly categorized as threats to freedom, to knowledge and to authenticity. Again, these three threats are divided into subcategories. Having categorized the main threats posed by VRSNs, a number of recommendations are provided so that policy-makers, developers, and users can make the best possible use of VRSNs.


Social networks Virtual reality Ethics Privacy Autonomy Freedom 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programmes (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No. ICT-2011-7-287723 (REVERIE project).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fiachra O’Brolcháin
    • 1
  • Tim Jacquemard
    • 1
  • David Monaghan
    • 2
  • Noel O’Connor
    • 2
  • Peter Novitzky
    • 1
  • Bert Gordijn
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of EthicsDublin City UniversityDublinIreland
  2. 2.Insight Centre for Data AnalyticsDublinIreland

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