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Calls for federal data privacy law grow alongside AR, VR use

A federal data privacy law would provide crucial safety guidance for development and adoption of technologies like augmented and virtual reality, according to Rep. Suzan DelBene.

As augmented and virtual reality technology adoption grows, the push for a federal data privacy law protecting personal information collected by such technologies is also growing.

VR and AR systems raise unique privacy concerns because of their ability to capture vast amounts of data about people and how they behave and live. Even a VR gaming session can record millions of data points in 20 minutes, like the configuration of a person's room and the unique patterns of a gamer's movements, said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who is seeking federal data privacy legislation.

DelBene sees AR and VR privacy concerns as one of the biggest challenges policymakers will have to address as industry adoption continues. A federal data privacy law will provide guidance to organizations and agencies using the technology as well as to developers, she said at the Augmented and Virtual Reality Policy Conference Thursday, hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

DelBene isn't the only proponent of a federal data privacy law, as other Congressional leaders including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., have introduced legislation to set federal data privacy and security standards that protect consumer data online. Although multiple states have passed and adopted privacy laws, no federal data privacy law exists. 

"A patchwork of state laws won't work in our digital world," DelBene said. "As we see augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies continue to develop, we need to make sure that people understand their rights and how their personal information could be used." 

Setting a federal data privacy law

Healthcare, education and manufacturing are only a handful of the industries where VR and AR technology is in use. These industries, particularly healthcare, can collect personal, sensitive information.

A patchwork of state laws won't work in our digital world.
Rep. Suzan DelBeneD-Wash.

DelBene said it's critical to ensure people are aware of what information is being collected through digital technologies and make sure processors of that data are required to use it in a responsible way. As it stands now, she said, "there's no real limit on what companies can do with this sensitive information."

DelBene said as countries, including the European Union with its GDPR, implement strong privacy laws, the U.S. has fallen behind with its lack of a federal data privacy law.

Without a privacy law, the U.S. will struggle to be part of global standards-setting efforts for emerging technologies like AR and VR.

"If we don't have a clear domestic policy, we won't be able to shape standards abroad and we risk others driving global policy," she said.

Indeed, Scott Evans, vice president of mixed reality at Microsoft, said during the ITIF conference that the federal government is responsible for helping provide guidelines detailing how organizations can adopt new technologies safely while protecting sensitive data, particularly for regulated industries like healthcare. 

Additionally, federal guidelines play a critical role in helping developers create safe applications for core technologies like AR and VR, he said.

Evans added that the decision resting on lawmakers' shoulders is how to provide some of the guardrails to innovation and help make sure emerging technologies are "used safely in these different environments."

Also this week

  • Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act that aims to protect competition and users conducting business on online platforms operated by big tech companies. The bill prevents large platform operators like Amazon and Apple from giving their own products preferential treatment. "As dominant digital platforms -- some of the biggest companies our world has ever seen -- increasingly give preference to their own products and services, we must put policies in place to ensure small businesses and entrepreneurs still have the opportunity to succeed in the digital marketplace," Klobuchar said in a news release. The House introduced a similar bill earlier this year.
  • Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine added Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a defendant in his lawsuit that was filed against Facebook in 2018 following the Cambridge Analytica scandal that resulted in the misuse of Facebook users' personal data. "Our continuing investigation revealed that he was personally involved in decisions related to Cambridge Analytica and Facebook's failure to protect user data," Racine tweeted.


  • Russia could be coming after Google with greater fines after the company failed to pay roughly $458,100 in penalties, according to Reuters. Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor said the Russian government plans to issues fines between 5% and 20% of Google's revenue in Russia, fines that could reach as high as $240 million, according to Reuters.
  • Facebook plans to change its company name, according to The Verge. The Verge reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to address the name change during the company's annual Connect conference Oct. 28 and expects the new name to reflect more than its social media components and focus on the metaverse, a digital platform enhanced by AR and VR capabilities.

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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