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From trying on clothing to choosing furniture online, companies are finding new ways to use augmented and virtual reality (jointly called extended reality) to promote products and services. However, the technology could also be used to manipulate and deceive consumers, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
The team of researchers studied several possible ways advertisers could mislead the public using products including military games, t-shirts, deodorant and furniture. It then created scenarios using a series of prompts to answer questions like ‘how could a certain manipulative advertising technique be replicated by extended reality?’ and ‘how could an existing advertising technique be used by bad actors?’
The team identified some common ways of manipulative advertising like inducing artificial emotions, sensing and targeting people when they are vulnerable, and emotional manipulation through hyper-personalisation, it said in a study titled ‘Identifying Manipulative Advertising Techniques in XR Through Scenario Construction’.
Advertisers could also distort a consumer’s sense of reality by overlaying graphics on someone’s AR glasses to change what they are seeing. For example, a political ad may try to paint a picture of a booming economy and release ads on AR glasses that subtly overlay graphics which hide or erase evidence of poverty, the study added.
Another possible danger is misleading experience marketing, which occurs when companies present previews of products through extended reality, which seem realistic and users may not be able to tell that the virtual product has been doctored.
“Extended reality advertising is not inherently detrimental to people, but there remains a need to be vigilant for bad actors seeking to use the technologies to harm consumers,” the team stated. A better understanding of the privacy framework and acceptable data practices around the use of extended reality must be looked into for increasing the literacy among consumers, the study added.