March 8, 2021—Experts are concerned about the privacy implications emanating from the use of virtual and cross reality devices, which they say could collect user data without consent, and are clamoring for new laws to keep up.
While most Americans are already familiar with virtual reality popularized by devices like Oculus Rift and Sony’s PlayStation VR, cross reality, or XR, is technology that incorporates both physical and digital components that further blur the lines in a user’s brain between what is “real” and what is simply simulated.
As these technologies continue to become more common place, legislators need to catch up and address some of the implications for them, according to experts discussing these mixed reality on Thursday.
Brittan Heller, an attorney who specializes in technology and human rights with Foley Hoag, coined the term “biometric psychography” to describe the way that data is collect in an VR/XR environment.
“It is like a ‘Like’ button on steroids,” she said. Heller explained that while a “Like” button allows a consumer to deliberately inform advertisers what they like, VR/XR tech collects data that a user might not even be conscious of.
“If you go to play [a video game in VR/XR], you really consent to having somebody know whether or not you’re telling the truth, or whether or not you have a proclivity towards neurological ailments like Alzheimer’s schizophrenia or ADHD or we are sexually attracted,” Heller said. “It’s the closest thing to reading you mind.”
Joseph Jerome, a privacy and technology attorney and information privacy professional in Washington, said America’s current privacy standards are not sufficient to address this new technology. When something seemingly as innocuous and unconscious as pupil dilation can be used by advertisers to exploit a consumer’s subconscious desires, a whole new level of privacy legislation is required.
“We’re moving to a universe where you’re going to need more consents for all of this type of information,” Jerome said. He argued that far more time will need to be invested in not only informing consumers what kind of data will be collected from them but educating them on the significance of what they are agreeing to.
Jerome said that privacy advocates and other experts that work in proximity to Big Data need to do more to educate legislators and regulators on the implications of VR/XR technology. He elaborated by saying that the walls of text found in user consent forms and terms of service will be woefully insufficient to inform consumers on what they are precisely agreeing to.
Heller was not just concerned about private corporations, however.
“I’m concerned about the day when I go back and work with the government again and they put a headset on me and ask me questions related to security clearances.”
Editor’s Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Brittan Heller of Foley Hoag coined the term “biometrics iconography.” In fact, the term he coined is “biometric psychography.”
Lawmakers, FCC Take More Action Against Illegal Robocallers
There are new proposed rules that offer legal protections to those aiding in enforcement efforts against illegal robocalls.
WASHINGTON, April 27, 2022 – Regulators and legislators in Washington continued their efforts to curb unlawful telephony use with proposed rules designed to crack down robocalls.
On Wednesday, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act – an amendment to the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act.
If signed into law, the bill would provide legal immunity for a broad range of entities engaging in private efforts to track, surveil, and report on illegal robocalling scams.
The protected parties include registered consortiums that handle call receiving, sharing, and publishing and all voice service providers and any informants that share covered information.
It would also grant the Federal Communications Commission jurisdiction to take enforcement actions based on the information collected during the aforementioned activities.
FCC measures on cease-and-desist letters
In addition to this legislation, as part of her agenda to combat scam calls, on April 26 FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed closing a loophole to the STIR/SHAKEN regime afforded to small telcos.
Most telcos are required to adhere to cease-and-desist orders regarding illegal spam-calls and generally comply with actions taken by the FCC. The loophole in question gave smaller telcos greater latitude in how they chose to respond to FCC requests.
If adopted, the proposed regulation would require small telcos to abide by cease-and-desist orders, participate in robocall mitigation, cooperate with FCC enforcement, and take responsibility for facilitating illegal robocall traffic.
“International robocallers use these gateways to enter our phone networks and defraud American consumers,” Rosenworcel said in a statement, “We won’t allow them to bypass our laws and hide from enforcement.”
The new rule will be voted on at the FCC’s open meeting on May 19.
Federal Privacy Legislation Needed As State Legislation Could Harm Smaller Players, Event Hears
Different state privacy laws stifle competition and places burdens on small companies, experts say.
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2022 – While experts agreed that federal legislators need to take action on comprehensive privacy legislation, they disagreed on the specifics of how such regulation should be enforced.
Though some states have begun to establish their own frameworks for consumer privacy regulation, each framework puts forth different standards that online platforms would have to adhere to. These varied frameworks have raised concerns among many experts who consider a patchwork of legislation to raise the bar of compliance – a bar that could be lowered by federal legislation.
During an R Street panel on Monday, experts from the technology industry weighed in on the matter with their perspectives.
In March, Utah joined California, Colorado, and Virginia and became the fourth state to successfully pass consumer privacy legislation. Several additional states, including Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut have experienced mixed success with their bills and have not yet signed anything into law.
Lartease Tiffith, executive vice president for public policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said that the US is an outlier among developed countries. “We are one of the few developed countries that [does not have a federal privacy law],” he said. “I think that in order to reflect the same common values as our colleagues who are in Europe and elsewhere around the world, we need [to make] one.”
Beyond the international perspective, Tiffith also emphasized domestic justifications for federal legislation. “I cannot think of a subject matter that is not more under the purview of Congress than interstate commerce,” he said. “The internet is everywhere – it is not limited by borders. So, we need to have one standard, one set of laws. It should not matter where you live – California, Utah, Virginia, Colorado – you should have the same basic privacy rights as anyone, anywhere.”
Various state legislation harder for smaller companies
Tiffith also explained that a patchwork of regulation would hit smaller businesses the hardest. “If you are a small or medium sized business and you are looking at investing more money into your products and service and delivering and reaching customers – you want to do that rather than spending time on hiring more lawyers to deal with ever complicating regulations.
“We need this for the next set of Amazons and Googles of the world to exists,” he said.
While the panelists were able to agree on the fact that current patchwork of laws is not sustainable, they did not agree on how to enforce a federal framework.
A federal body for consumer data protection
Sara Collins, senior policy counsel for internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, voiced benefits to creating a new data protection authority in the US – a body distinct from the Federal Trade Commission – that would focus expressly on matters related to consumer data protection.
Tiffith pushed back, however, arguing that the FTC already does a good job at handling these issues, and is only held back by what he views as under-resourcing. “If you compare the FTC to other protection authorities, they are very under-resourced,” he said. “So, I think instead of us standing up a whole new data protection authority, I think instead, let’s invest that money in the FTC, give them some rules, some limited rulemaking authority, and let’s give them a lot more staff and a lot more money.
“Let them be the cop on the beat,” he said.
FCC Announces Majority of States Now Signed Onto Robocall Investigation Partnership
The FCC signed on five states this month and seven last month.
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it has partnered with further five more state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.
The agency said Thursday it had signed on Alaska, California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Washington state to investigate the robocalls, which can lead to scams. Thursday’s news comes on the heels of a March 28 announcement, when the agency said it signed similar memorandum of understanding with Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wyoming.
Altogether, the agency, which announced the federal-state partnership effort in February, said it has signed on the majority of the United States.
“It shows that we are united when it comes to fighting robocalls—urban, rural, north, south, east, and west,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today I invite every state and U.S. territory to join this effort and establish information sharing and cooperation structures with the FCC so we can work together to investigate and put an end to spoofing and robocall scam campaigns.”
The agency, which has made fighting illegal robocalls a key mandate, has previously credited states with catching those that allow robocalls.
Earlier this month, the FCC credited the North Carolina Department of Justice in an investigation that identified thinQ Technologies as a “facilitator” of robocalls. The agency, which is working with the Traceback Consortium to identify the culprits, has already sent more than a dozen cease and desist letters to those it has identified in investigations.
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