There is remote work that stays. Although the Work-From-Home (WFH) revolution is on its way out, a majority of employees and employers want a hybrid model for the future: working both at the office and remotely from home. The WFH revolution has galvanized big tech companies to find new ways to work remotely, and a new development has captured their imagination. You can feel like you are at the office when you are working from home because of the metaverse.

Integrating virtual reality into the workspace isn’t new. Many large businesses, including Walmart, have used virtual reality to train and recruit. The metaverse provides a virtual reality space for collaboration, rather than instruction. The new potential for the metaverse is projected to grow and impact up 23.5 million jobs by the year 2030. The metaverse presents a threat to employee privacy, as evidenced by the market’s enthusiasm. It could allow employers to surveil the thoughts and feelings of their staff if the regulations don’t keep up.

Working in a Virtual Office

Instead of opening your laptop to join a meeting, you put on a virtual reality headset and work in virtual reality. Meta’s flagship virtual reality headset is the Oculus Quest 2, which comes with two controllers to capture your hand’s movement. The headset gives you a first-person, visual and auditory experience of a virtual office in the metaverse, which is what you would experience if you were in it.

If you want to join a meeting in Meta’s Horizon Workroom, you have to design youravatar, personalize it with your hair style, skin color, and apparel, and make it look like you are at the meeting. The Workroom participants will see the representation of you in the virtual space as you interact with one another, and that’s what theavatar is. It will mimic your hand gestures based on the movement of your controllers and nod or shake its head. The output of the virtual reality headset will adjust to your change in location, thanks to Microsoft’s mesh.

The workspace can be adjusted. Depending on your needs, you could host a meeting in a conference room or lecture hall. You could bring your own laptop into the virtual reality environment by scanning your desk and keyboard with the headsets. With your computer’s display projected in front of you, you can perform work in the metaverse. The plethora of features offered by Meta’s Horizon Workroom attempts to close the gap between working from home and at an office. The advanced technologies used to transform remote work could have troubling implications for the privacy of employees.

Privacy in the Metaverse

The boundary of privacy between employers and employees could be undermined by work in the metaverse. Virtual reality headsets need to collect our data to track and project our motions. Up to 20 million data points can be generated by using a Virtual Reality headset for 20 minutes. Tracking a person’s head and hand movements can be used to identify them with up to 85% accuracy. Tracking data from virtual reality can serve as a digital fingerprints that can make it impossible to remain anonymous.

As virtual reality technology improves, it will collect more information from our bodies. Eye- and face-tracking features will be included in the next iteration of the Oculus headset, which will allow you to roll your eyes or smile with your real self. Data about where you are looking and your facial expression can appear benign, but it can have disturbing implications for workplace monitoring. Your facial expressions could be studied and used to draw conclusions about your emotional state. It is possible for an employer to find patterns in your emotions and discover who you enjoy working with and which tasks you find fulfilling or not. Data about your eye movements could be used to determine your level of engagement at work, as well as being used to deliver highly customized ads. Predicting your mental illnesses, who you are attracted to, and even your sexuality, can be done with eye- tracking technologies. It is possible to open a trove of personal data that could be used to monitor and appraise workplace performance of employees.

Lagging Regulations

It is not known how much data will be protected under existing laws. The Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) of Illinois does not address whether tracked movements fall within its definition, but it does include scans of your eyes, hands and face. The BIPA requires employers to give adequate notice and consent before collecting data, but employees will be hard-pressed to decline if it is conditioned upon their employment or if their denial could reflect poorly on them. The BIPA restrictions on what employers can do with employees’ data does not prevent employers from monitoring and analyzing the employees’ behavior and emotional states

The BIPA is not the only privacy law in other states that is similar to it. The Capture or Use of Biometric Information Act of Texas and the Biometric Identifiers Law of Washington require notice and consent from employees when it comes to collection and usage of the data. Both statutes are too broad when it comes to defining what employers can do with their employees’ biometric data, so long as they have their employees’ consent. Employers will be able to hire third-party consultants to track and analyze your data for workplace monitoring. The statutes allow employers to retain the data for as long as the employee is with the company. The current legal framework surrounding biometric data leaves a gap for employers to collect, monitor and exploit their employees’ personal data through the metaverse

The metaverse could change how we think of physical office spaces and give people a right to decide where they work. Employers could open a window into some of the most private thoughts of their employees. Lawmakers need to make sure that the future of work keeps the essential boundaries between employers and employees, as big tech companies push towards innovation.