University of Glasgow researchers, Dr Mark McGill (Computing Science) and Dr Mohamed Khamis (Computing Science) have collaborated to co-produce the ARC XR project, 'PriXR: Protecting Extended Reality (XR) User and Bystander Privacy by Supporting Legibility of XR Sensing and Processing'. Funding (£80,000) from the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (REPHRAIN) will support the project from July 2021 until August 2022.

Objectives of the project

State-of-the-art Extended Reality (XR) headsets now incorporate wide angle depth/LiDAR-type sensing, enabling the sensing of our environment, bodies and actions, and the presence and actions of others. XR technology has the capacity revolutionize personal computing, heralding new capabilities in augmented intelligence and perception (AIP), telepresence, productivity, accessibility and entertainment – capable of fundamentally altering, augmenting, or supplanting reality in the process.  

Every major technology innovator is actively developing their own XR headsets and platforms, vying for control of this future. However, mass ubiquitous adoption of XR headsets will introduce significant privacy and security risks. Perhaps the foremost risk will be to the anonymity and privacy of both users and bystanders.

XR sensing will bestow malicious actors with super-sensory capabilities, harming the security and privacy of bystanders. Platforms, companies and governments will have access to unprecedented capabilities for distributed real-time surveillance, enabling the `worldscraping' of behaviours, environments and actions. 

The impact

PriXR intends to harden XR technology against violations of privacy and anonymity, crucially exploring XR not in terms of its benefits to society, but in how society can safely unlock those benefits through: 

  • Supporting resistance against surveillance and misuse – We will explore novel XR sensing API architectures that facilitate both enhanced data access protections, and increased user awareness regarding how, when, and to what purpose personal sensing is being used – bringing transparency and accountability to the use of XR sensing, and making it harder for applications to unknowingly abuse XR’s capacity for surveillance. 
  • Facilitating bystander awareness and consent – Where XR sensing is used with the user’s knowledge and permission to surveil, capture, or augment reality, we will also examine how we can facilitate bystander awareness and comprehension of this activity, and actively include mechanisms for bystanders to grant or deny consent to said activity.