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.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
There is also academic interest in the merger of VR and SNs: the European Union has funded a 4 year research project that brings together key players in both domains—REVERIE—that aims to provide “the means for building a mixed reality space in which real and virtual worlds engage and seamlessly interact in real‐time, generating compelling and highly realistic immersive environments” (Objectives-REVERIE 2014). This will, it is thought, “introduce a paradigm shift for how communication happens in social networks” (ibid) by revolutionizing “immersive media distribution from a passive centralized context to a personalized highly distributed framework” (ibid). Furthermore, this “will provide for the individuals new ways of 3D/immersive media sharing and distribution under a socially aware, personalized, collaborative and distributed framework” (Expected Results-REVERIE 2014).
Clearly data will need to be protected in other scenarios also.
Everyone with a Gmail account has automatically been given a Google+ account; whilst Microsoft’s latest Windows system—Windows 8—requires users to create a Microsoft account if they are to avail of many of the applications that come with the software.
The EU has been active in these areas, e.g. a proposed directive of the European Parliament on the protection of individuals regarding the processing of their data by authorities security or criminal purposes (Commission 2012). See also the “right to be forgotten” ruling that makes internet search engine operators responsible for the processing that they carry out of personal data which appear on web pages published by third parties (Skouris et al. 2014).
Allen, A. (2011). Privacy and medicine. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2011). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2011/entries/privacy-medicine/
Andreassen, C. S., Torsheim, T., Brunborg, G. S., & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a Facebook addiction scale. Psychological Reports, 110(2), 501–517. doi:10.2466/02.09.18.PR0.110.2.501-517.
arXiv, E. T. F. (2012). Evidence emerges that Iran is building its own hidden internet. Retrieved March 31, 2014 from http://www.technologyreview.com/view/429447/evidence-emerges-that-iran-is-building-its-own-hidden-internet/
Barrett, D. (2013). One surveillance camera for every 11 people in Britain, says CCTV survey. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10172298/One-surveillance-camera-for-every-11-people-in-Britain-says-CCTV-survey.html
BBC News. (2012). Facebook party invite sparks riot in Haren, Netherlands. Retrieved March 31, 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19684708
BBC News. (2014a). Facebook attacked for emotion study. Retrieved June 30, 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28051930
BBC News. (2014b). Turkey “blocks YouTube access.” Retrieved March 27, 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26773702
Behavioural Insights Team. (2014). Retrieved February 26, 2014 from https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/behavioural-insights-team
Bentham, J. (1995). The panopticon writings. London: Verso.
Birky, I., & Collins, W. (2011). Facebook: Maintaining ethical practice in the cyberspace age. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 25(3), 193–203.
Brey, P. (1999). The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality. Ethics and Information Technology, 1(1), 5–14. doi:10.1023/A:1010069907461
Brey, P., & Søraker, J. H. (2009). Philosophy of computing and information technology. In M. Anthonie (Ed.), Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences (pp. 1341–1407). Amsterdam: North-Holland. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444516671500513
Buss, S. (2008). Personal Autonomy. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2008). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/personal-autonomy/
Cadwalladr, C. (2014). Charlotte Laws’ fight with Hunter Moore, the internet’s revenge porn king. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/mar/30/charlotte-laws-fight-with-internet-revenge-porn-king
Cameron, D. (2014). CeBIT 2014: David Cameron’s speech—Speeches—GOV.UK. Retrieved April 10, 2014 from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/cebit-2014-david-camerons-speech
Carr, N. (2010). The shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. London: Atlantic Books.
Cellan-Jones, R. (2014). Facebook buys the future. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26746694
Coll, S., Glassey, O., & Balleys, C. (2011). Building social networks ethics beyond "privacy": A sociological perspective. International Review of Information Ethics, 16, 47–53.
Commission, E. (2012). Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the council on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (general data protection regulation). European Commission. Retrieved from http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2012:0011:FIN:EN:PDF
Correa, C. (2013). Why video games are more addictive and bigger than movies will ever be. Retrieved Feb 23, 2014 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christophercorrea/2013/04/11/why-video-games-are-addictive-and-bigger-than-movies-will-ever-be/
Cranford, M. (1996). The social trajectory of virtual reality: Substantive ethics in a world without constraints. Technology in Society, 18(1), 79–92. doi:10.1016/0160-791X(95)00023-K
Dubrofsky, R. E. (2011). Surveillance on reality television and Facebook: From authenticity to flowing data. Communication Theory, 21(2), 111–129.
Duhigg, C. (2012). How companies learn your secrets. The New York Times. New York. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Eichenwald, K. (2013). Facebook leans. In Vanity fair (May). Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2013/05/facebook-future-mark-zuckerberg-sheryl-sandberg
Expected Results-REVERIE. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.reveriefp7.eu/project/expected-results/
Facebook Newsroom. (2014). Company Info|Facebook newsroom. Retrieved from http://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/
Ford, P. (2001). A further analysis of the ethics of representation in virtual reality: Multi-user environments. Ethics and Information Technology, 3(2), 113–121.
Gill, S. (2008). Socio-ethics of interaction with intelligent interactive technologies. Ai & Society, 22(3), 283–300. doi:10.1007/s00146-007-0145-y
Gooskens, G. (2010). The ethical status of virtual actions. Ethical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network, 17(1), 59–78.
Gotterbarn, D. (2010). The ethics of video games: Mayhem, death, and the training of the next generation. Information Systems Frontiers, 12(4), 369–377. doi:10.1007/s10796-009-9204-x
Griffin, J. (2008). On human rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huxley, A. (2013). Brave new world. London: Everymans.
Internet of Things: The Future of Business Technology|Microsoft. (2014). Retrieved July 23, 2014 from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsembedded/en-us/internet-of-things.aspx
Johansson, M. (2009). Why unreal punishments in response to unreal crimes might actually be a really good thing. Ethics and Information Technology, 11(1), 71–79.
Karmali, L. (2013). World of Warcraft down to 7.7 million subscribers. Retrieved April 22, 2014 from http://ie.ign.com/articles/2013/07/26/world-of-warcraft-down-to-77-million-subscribers
Kaupins, G., & Park, S. (2011). Legal and ethical implications of corporate social networks. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 23, 83–99.
Kosinski, M., Stillwell, D., & Graepel, T. (2013). Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(15), 5802–5805. doi:10.1073/pnas.1218772110
Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massivescale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 201412469. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320040111
Light, B., & McGrath, K. (2010). Ethics and social networking sites: A disclosive analysis of Facebook. Information Technology & People, 23(4), 290–311. doi:10.1108/09593841011087770
Locke, J. (1689). The second treatise of government (3rd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.
Lory, B. (2010). Using Facebook to assess candidates during the recruiting process: Ethical implications. NACE Knowledge Centre.
Mill, J. S. (1859). On liberty. London: Penguin.
Morozov, E. (2013). How Facebook could get you arrested. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/mar/09/facebook-arrested-evgeny-morozov-extract
Muñoz, Y. J., & El-Hani, C. N. (2012). The student with a thousand faces: From the ethics in video games to becoming a citizen. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 7(4), 909–943. doi:10.1007/s11422-012-9444-9
Newitz, A. (2014). Is second life about to become a ghost world? Retrieved June 26, 2014 from http://io9.com/is-second-life-about-to-become-a-ghost-world-1594324051
Nissenbaum, H. (1998). Protecting privacy in an information age: The problem of privacy in public. Law and Philosophy, 17(5–6), 559–596.
Nozick, Robert. (1974). Anarchy, state and utopia. Oxford: Blackwell.
O’Dwyer, D. (2014). Why Facebook founder had to buy WhatsApp. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from http://www.irishtimes.com/news/technology/gadgets/why-facebook-founder-had-to-buy-whatsapp-1.1700459
Objectives-REVERIE. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.reveriefp7.eu/project/objectives/
Orwell, G. (2013). 1984. London: Penguin.
Papagiannidis, S., Bourlakis, M., & Li, F. (2008). Making real money in virtual worlds: MMORPGs and emerging business opportunities, challenges and ethical implications in metaverses. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 75(5), 610–622. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2007.04.007
Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the internet is hiding from you. London: Penguin.
Parsell, M. (2008). Pernicious virtual communities: Identity, polarisation and the Web 2.0. Ethics and Information Technology, 10(1), 41–56. doi:10.1007/s10676-008-9153-y
Sartor, G. (2012). Human rights in the information society: Utopias, dystopias and human values. In C. Corradetti (Ed.), Philosophical dimensions of human rights (pp. 293–307). Netherlands: Springer. Retrieved from http://www.springerlink.com/content/q731672287x354m2/abstract/
Skouris, V., Lenaerts, K., Ilešič, M., Bay Larsen, L., von Danwitz, T., & Safjan, M. (2014). Case C-131/12. Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González (Grand Chamber May 13, 2014).
Soderlund, G. (2008). Journalist or panderer? Framing underage webcam sites. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 5(4), 62–72. doi:10.1525/srsp.2008.5.4.62
Talbot, D. (2013). Moto X and other smartphones are set to listen to their environments all the time. Retrieved May 3, 2014 from http://www.technologyreview.com/news/517801/the-era-of-ubiquitous-listening-dawns/
Timberg, C., & Nakashima, E. (2013). FBI’s search for “Mo,” suspect in bomb threats, highlights use of malware for surveillance. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/fbis-search-for-mo-suspect-in-bomb-threats-highlights-use-of-malware-for-surveillance/2013/12/06/352ba174-5397-11e3-9e2c-e1d01116fd98_story_2.html
Tomkins, M. (2014). New face recognition algorithm knows you better than you know yourself. Retrieved from http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/04/23/new-face-recognition-algorithm-knows-you-better-than-you-know-yourself
Vallor, S. (2010). Social networking technology and the virtues. Ethics and Information Technology, 12(2), 157–170. doi:10.1007/s10676-009-9202-1
Wakefield, J. (2014). Heartbleed: Do you need to worry? Retrieved April 11, 2014 from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26969629
Walker, S. (2014). Text messages warn Ukraine protesters they are “participants in mass riot.” The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/21/ukraine-unrest-text-messages-protesters-mass-riot
Weckert, J. (2002). Lilliputian computer ethics. Metaphilosophy, 33(3), 366–375.
Zuckerberg, M. (2014). I’m excited to announce that we’ve agreed to acquire Oculus VR, the leader in VR technology. Facebook.com. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101319050523971
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).
About this article
Cite this article
O’Brolcháin, F., Jacquemard, T., Monaghan, D. et al. The Convergence of Virtual Reality and Social Networks: Threats to Privacy and Autonomy. Sci Eng Ethics 22, 1–29 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-014-9621-1