The Future Of Augmented Reality Comes With Ethical And Legal Concerns

Screen-grab from short film “Sight” with edits by Cutiousmatic.

New technology means new ways of seeing and experiencing the world digitally. Augmented Reality, or AR, is technology that allows users a live view of the real world, supplemented by computer-generated sensory input.

According to, a non-profit group dedicated to promoting augmented reality, AR’s purpose is to digitize interaction with the real world, enabling users to “master skills effortlessly, increase situational awareness with a ‘digital sixth sense’ and have more fun – away from the screen.”

The point of AR is to merge real life with digital layers to enhance both physical and visual experience.

With the beta release of Google Glass and similar projects close behind, the emergence of commercial AR technology opens up a new world (almost literally) of issues that could come with such a pervasive, and possibly invasive, technology.

1. The power of persuasion: AR could be manipulative.

It’s no news that our TVs, computers, and devices are already prime advertising space. AR opens up a whole new area that can eventually be used for marketing, and though Google Glass has no ad plans yet, the opportunities are endless.

Already, there are some very cool advertisements using AR that come to life via smartphone or tablet, which are innovative in AR’s early stages.

While using this kind of tool can be fun and even helpful, it can also be used to mold our perceptions when corporations want to persuade us to buy things.

2. The effect on behavior: AR could cause social detachment

Technology is twofold: it can bring us closer together through social networking and more, while at the same time detaching us by creating a web of physical separation.

AR done right may enhance social interactions by adding new and exciting elements that don’t impose heavily on human experience.

Done wrong, AR could separate users further by normalizing inorganic digital interactions, limiting real-life communication, or blurring the lines between what’s real and artificial.

3. The issue of privacy: AR could abuse data context

Perhaps the biggest ethical dilemma AR faces is that of privacy. AR glasses will likely have the ability to record and take pictures in real time, and fairly inconspicuously. Luckily, Google Glass’ camera is reported by Gothamist to show a light while in use.

Besides giving users the ability to easily record and share material, potentially unlawfully or immorally, AR also presents the issue of social data used out of context. For example, the app “Girls Around Me”  uses Foursquare information to allow users to find the location and profile information of random individuals, and even contact them.

Add AR into the mix, and you could have yourself a situation similar to what is depicted in the short film “Sight.”  It shows a man using his AR to (almost successfully) seduce his date by using tips from an app on his device that reads her body language, alcohol intake, and info from her online profile. You can watch the film below.

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Jennifer Markert