The latest case in point: new research out of Stanford (first spotted by the German website Mixed), found that it took researchers just five minutes of examining the movement data of VR users to identify them in the real world. The paper says participants using an HTC Vive headset and controllers watched five 20-second clips from a randomized set of 360-degree videos, then answered a set of questions in VR that were tracked in a separate research paper.
The movement data (including height, posture, head movement speed and what participants looked at and for how long) was then plugged into three machine learning algorithms, which, from a pool of 511 participants, was able to correctly identify 95% of users accurately “when trained on less than 5 min of tracking data per person.” The researchers went on to note that while VR headset makers (like every other company) assures users that “de-identified” or “anonymized” data would protect their identities, that’s really not the case:
If you don’t like this study, there’s just an absolute ocean of research over the last decade making the same point: “anonymized” or “de-identified” doesn’t actually mean “anonymous.” Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, for example, found that they could identify drivers based on just 15 minutes’ worth of data collected from brake pedal usage alone. Researchers from Stanford and Princeton universities found that they could correctly identify an “anonymized” user 70% of the time just by comparing their browsing data to their social media activity.