The Ethics of Virtual Reality Technology: Social Hazards and Public Policy Recommendations

Sci Eng Ethics. 2018 Oct;24(5):1537-1550. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-9979-y. Epub 2017 Sep 23.


This article explores four major areas of moral concern regarding virtual reality (VR) technologies. First, VR poses potential mental health risks, including Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. Second, VR technology raises serious concerns related to personal neglect of users' own actual bodies and real physical environments. Third, VR technologies may be used to record personal data which could be deployed in ways that threaten personal privacy and present a danger related to manipulation of users' beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. Finally, there are other moral and social risks associated with the way VR blurs the distinction between the real and illusory. These concerns regarding VR naturally raise questions about public policy. The article makes several recommendations for legal regulations of VR that together address each of the above concerns. It is argued that these regulations would not seriously threaten personal liberty but rather would protect and enhance the autonomy of VR consumers.

Keywords: Autonomy; Ethics; Mental health; Privacy; Technology; Virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues*
  • Culture
  • Depersonalization
  • Emotions
  • Freedom
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Illusions
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Health
  • Morals
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Public Policy*
  • Risk
  • Social Control, Formal*
  • Technology / ethics*
  • Technology / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Virtual Reality*