Privacy is the New Celebrity EP 17: Kavya Pearlman


In episode 17, Henry Holtzman interviews Kavya Pearlman, award-winning cyber security professional and founder of the XR Safety Initiative, a non-profit organization that promotes privacy, security, and ethics in virtual and augmented reality.

Henry asks Kavya to break down why there is so much buzz around the metaverse right now, and why we should be concerned for our privacy. Kavya explains what she considers the greatest risk. “When the metaverse is fully realized, the number one risk is the loss of our agency, our autonomy. We may think we’re making decisions, but loss of free will… it’s barely even being talked about”, says Kavya.

Kavya explains how body-worn sensors like VR headsets vastly increase the amount of data companies can collect from users and the difficulty of developing regulations for technology that doesn’t quite exist yet.

Kavya says, “It’s not even about predicting what a person is going to do, it’s more about what they will let you do.” She uses employment as an example. You may not even get the interview for jobs or promotions you apply for if HR has access to your cognitive load. The corporation could predict what time of day you will start to feel tired, or even if a person is pregnant. This information currently exists, but it’s not in the hands of creators and developers yet.

Kavya shares her experience serving as the head of security for the oldest existing virtual world, “Second Life” by Linden Lab, and what this taught her about the need for adequate user protections.

When Henry asks Kavya when privacy first became important to her, she shares a story of how, in 2016, she was hired as a third-party security advisor for Facebook. She didn’t have a Facebook account at the time and understood that it was necessary to have an account while working there. Kavya was careful when creating an account to only share minimal personal information and a couple of pictures. She had previously changed religions from Hindu to a Hijab woman who covers her hair. The photos were made public by default, and within a matter of hours, Facebook’s AI had begun suggesting her as a friend to her relatives back in India. Some of her relatives who were not supportive of her change in religion started sending hurtful and threatening messages. She didn’t even realize that her Hijab pictures were viewable online until a friend called to notify her. Kavya explained how this is a prime example of how hurtful and dangerous this loss of privacy could be for users based on their lifestyle choices such as religion and sexual orientation

You can check out Henry’s entire conversation with Kavya Pearlman on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Buzzsprout. While you’re listening, don’t forget to subscribe to Privacy is the New Celebrity Podcast on your favorite streaming service.

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