Virtual reality brings about new opportunities in many areas: marketing, manufacturing, health-care, education, communication, sales, and even the arts. What is more, thanks to rapid technological progress, it is becoming a common part of our lives, whether at work, school or in personal life. However, new legal challenges go hand in hand with this. It remains to be seen whether the legal framework will have to change in the future, or if the existing legislation will do.
The learning potential and legal challenges of Virtual Reality was the topic discussed by Deloitte experts John James McVeigh (Legal CE Business Development Manager), Lukáš Holub (Senior Associate at the Deloitte Legal Digital Team), and Thomas De Bruyne (Senior Coordinator at Transformational Leadership & Learning).
James: I’m very glad to have this opportunity to speak with you both about Virtual Reality and some of the legal aspects that are likely to arise in implementing this relatively new tool in business. Perhaps, first of all, you could say a few words about yourselves?
Lukas: Thank you for having us, James. I am a lawyer in the Digital Team here at Deloitte Legal. We support clients in a wide range of activities focused on technology and e-commerce business, intellectual property, privacy and data security. We are certainly a future-oriented department and try to look ahead to what will come. VR is one of the areas that I am sure will be huge in the near future.
Thomas: My background is in Organizational Psychology and I spent the last three years at Deloitte in Belgium where I was involved in the design of Digital Learning experiences. Just this month I moved to Prague and will be working here together with my colleague Ladana Edwards to explore emerging technologies, as part of Deloitte Transformational Leadership and Learning, including Virtual Reality, to bring back experience to corporate learning.
James: What does that mean, exactly, Thomas?
Thomas: Well, as an e-learning developer and consumer, I feel that we have lost too much real-life experience in formal learning. We have a lot of content thrown at us, but we are not exactly experiencing it like we do while learning in practice. This is not embodied learning and therefore it is less engaging, and less memorable. With Virtual Reality becoming much more affordable, we could bring back this experiential learning without the major expense that the same learning would cost in Real Reality. Post-pandemic, as businesses move more towards dispersed employment, experiential learning through VR will become even more of a necessity as physical interactions may become even impossible.
Lukas: This illustrates how versatile VR as a technology is – it can be used in marketing, manufacturing, healthcare, communication and collaboration, sales, and even the arts. Due to this, I can foresee that many legal issues will arise. It’s especially fascinating for an IP lawyer.
James: Thomas, I think that what comes to mind when we mention Virtual Reality probably is one major concern – that it is horrendously expensive. Won’t the costs of set-up be prohibitive for companies?
Thomas: I agree with Lukas that we are just starting to scratch the surface of possible Virtual Reality applications, and that’s because the cost of this technology has decreased dramatically. Only a decade ago a VR set-up would have cost anything upwards of $10.000, while now, in 2020, the very first mass consumer stand-alone headsets come to just $450. It’s only in the last year or so that the costs have dropped enough that mass market adoption is likely – we saw similar turning points with personal computing in the late 1980s, and mobile telephones in the early 2000s. I think that the early 2020’s is when VR finally goes mainstream.
Lukas: Also, I think it would be a mistake if we talked about Virtual Reality only when imagining it as cutting edge, super high-tech headset or other equipment. The everyday use will be, or actually is, much more down to earth and pragmatic. We already have this technology in apps on our mobile phones. In the same way that video calls are no longer science fiction, we can expect that the use of Virtual and Augmented Reality will soon be quite common.
James: Lukas, what might be the legal issues that will arise in the future?
James: Could you give us a hypothetical example?
Lukas: Let’s imagine many of us will be using the same headsets. It is not far-fetched to imagine that in using them in Augmented Reality, when walking down the street, one of the companies will pay for advertising that will always appear over or near the real-life billboards of its competitors. This is only hypothetical but I am sure that marketers and other professions will try to exploit this technology as much as possible to their advantage, and businesses will disagree on what is acceptable and what is not.
Thomas: One other thing to keep in mind from an end-user perspective is that one of the most commonly available headsets at present comes from a leading social media firm, which has their main business model run on advertisement revenues.
Lukas: The privacy questions are definitely present. Software developers and manufacturers need to operate within the existing regulatory framework. There will be grey areas that are yet undefined regarding privacy and Virtual Reality. It can become quite complex.
Thomas: So instead of focusing on one specific technology, and building a legal framework, what if GDPR takes care of data privacy, regardless of technology use, we can identify the most important areas we see with the emerging digital technologies. How could we go for these laws that will protect not only Virtual Reality, but Augmented Reality, and biofeedback. So, that would be my question for you: Where do you see most important concerns in the area of Digital technologies? It’s an open question, if this could be an alternative approach in order to keep up with the pace of the technologies, but we should focus on what is important to us as people.
Lukas: You mentioned GDPR. I will start with that. The general idea behind this regulation was to come up with some general principles that will be applicable to any technology. Today, and even a hundred years from now. I believe that this notion that you suggested is the one that we should follow. Of course, it might not always be impossible to anticipate all future developments. If we see a widespread use of this technology, it might even change the current legal framework, as we have seen with other technologies.
James: I think that it will be at firms like Deloitte, and especially our colleagues in Deloitte Legal in the Digital Group, that by being early adopters of this technology, and using it internally, that we can come to grips with what the potential here is for business, and the likely pitfalls to encounter. It’ll be possible to iron out the difficulties, and help make the mass market adoption of this tool for business be trouble-free and legally sound.
Lukas: Yes, we are at the forefront of what is possible. Combining the digital learning experience of colleagues like Thomas, with organizational insight, and legal know-how, will allow us to make sure it all holds together in practice. We can expect real business cases with clear benefits for clients.
Thomas: Exactly. We are at the early stages, but I believe we can see where this can go, and how to make it work well for everybody.
James: Very interesting, guys. Thanks for this!