Metaverse Meets Higher Education: Security, Privacy, Security Concerns

Metaverse Meets Higher Education: Security, Privacy, Security Concerns

As AR/VR technology continues to improve and universities experiment with the concept of “metaversity” to deliver experiential digital courses in extended reality (XR) environments, higher education institutions will need to carefully consider the implications. in privacy and data security that could come with mass adoption of VR technologies.

These concerns were the focus of a recent webinar led by Richard LaFosse, compliance and policy manager for university innovation at the University of Michigan, and Didier Contis, executive director of university technology, innovation and of Research Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who offered insight into the safety and ethical challenges of XR adoption both on and off campus at the virtual Educause annual conference this month.

According to LaFosse, the analytical capabilities of AR/VR technology could raise privacy concerns similar to those associated with virtual room analytics for remote test monitoring. As an example, he cited a recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio that “bedroom scans” may violate students’ constitutional rights to privacy when required by a public university.

“XR technologies such as VR headsets far exceed webcams in terms of capturing data regarding one’s surroundings, so it’s easy to see how similar breaches can be found when privacy considerations are excluded from XR initiatives, especially if students use devices at home where privacy expectations are so high,” he said. “XR devices collect a lot of [personally identifiable information] which could trigger [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] FERPA protectors.

When it comes to student privacy and data practices, Contis said it’s important to take note of how much data can actually be collected through the use of XR devices. He said XR headsets can scan and analyze the space around students wearing them in great detail, similar to room scans used for surveillance, and also track students’ unique movements, interactions with objects, facial features, and biometric data, among other data points. He said institutions need to be aware of whether data such as this is stored locally on the device or in the cloud, and whether the collection itself could violate applicable federal or state student privacy regulations. .

“With each new end-user computing device, more data and personal information is collected,” Contis said. “To understand how much data XR devices collect, we need to consider the sensors that this new class of device has. In fact, XR headsets have many more sensors than a phone.

In addition to carefully reviewing data collection practices and terms of service before adopting new devices, Contis said universities must consider the implications of requiring students to use their student accounts when they use or connect to XR devices, and ways to manage and maintain them. nowadays.

“It is not enough to analyze device manufacturers’ data collection and use practices and processes to address concerns,” he said. “The same should apply to XR app developers or other service providers themselves, as they may collect potentially sensitive and personally identifiable information in connection with the provision of a specific service or application features.”

Other considerations include the danger of physical and psychological harm from using these devices, such as users bumping into objects in the room while using headsets or contracting “cybersickness”, a form of disorientation or nausea that can come from seeing movement without being physically moving. LaFosse added that these devices, used by so many students, could also raise concerns about hygiene and sanitation.

Noting potential liability issues in this area, he said, universities should clearly communicate lab safety procedures and possible dangers to students using XR technologies.

“While XR is great technology, the risk of harm to yourself or others is unfortunately real and should not be underestimated,” he said.

Brandon Paykamian

Brandon Paykamian is a writer for Government Technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and several years of experience as a multimedia journalist, focusing primarily on public education and higher education.

See more stories by Brandon Paykamian

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