Augmented Reality: The Reality

How global tech giants Google and Facebook are exploiting your data for their benefit

Augmented Reality Spectacles, Image from Unsplash
Photo by My name is Yanick on Unsplash

Augmented Reality’ is a new term which has become more and more recognised and exploited in the past 10 years. Have you ever heard of the term but have always thought it won’t affect you? Well, augmented reality in everyday life is just around the corner.

In this article, I will dissect augmented reality and explain what it means for you and how it will change and affect your everyday life. I will first delve into the origins of augmented reality, and how it was first instigated. I will then assess how augmented reality is being used for commercial gain by tech giants, specifically Google and Facebook, and how the collection of one’s personal data is so valuable to these companies. Lastly, I will assess how the new developments of augmented reality have, and will, affect people in everyday life, and the positive and negative implications of this.

Pokemon Go Augmented Reality
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

 

What is Augmented Reality And Where Did It Begin?

Augmented Reality has many definitions as it is a broad term and can be interpreted in different ways, however it can be best described as the addition of “digital information to the world that you can interact with in the same manner that you interact with the physical world” (Craig, 2013, p. 2). Mark Pesce, author of Augmented Reality, perceives augmented reality as a blend between the synthetic, virtual, world and the real, physical world through the use of digital devices, recognising this as a “technologically supported hallucination” which, “blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy” (Pesce, 2017, p. 1). The earliest display of augmented reality in everyday life was when Pokémon Go was released in 2016, and millions got a taste of what augmented reality was really like (Pesce, 2017). Millions of people from all over the world used their smartphones as a tool to turn their virtual world into a reality, as Pokémon Go used the real world as the game’s setting, which enticed users to travel many kilometres to find various hidden Pokémon characters which existed only on their smartphones, however augmented reality made it appear as if they were in the physical realm (Pesce, 2017). Despite the success of Pokémon Go, this was not where the idea of augmented reality was founded.

 

Augmented reality game, Pokemon Go, being played on a smartphone
“pokemon go” by Paintimpact is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Pyramids in Egypt
“Egypt-12B-046 – Step Pyramid Complex” by archer10 (Dennis) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Since the beginning of time, humans have had a desire to change and augment their physical surroundings (Craig, 2013). Within the physical realm, alterations have been made my humans to modify and improve their world (Craig, 2013). For example, in the early ancient centuries, humans would carve into rock in order to create pyramids and statues, which would then be used as a place of worship (Craig, 2013). This alteration of physical surroundings completely changes the meaning of the space to the desires of humans and displays early detections of the boundaries between the physical and virtual by humans. Augmented reality in the digital age now allows humans and corporations to alter their surroundings virtually through digital devices.

 

Your Data Is Valuable! Exploitation Of Data Through Augmented Reality And Its Commercial Gain

In order for augmented reality to come to market, tech giants such as Google and Facebook require one essential component – data. As Mark Pesce observes in his extensive augmented reality studies, “in order to add or remove information about the world, these systems must scan that world continuously, creating a very valuable stream of data about the places people go and the things that catch their attention” (Pesce, 2017, p. 1). Data has been immensely recognised in information and communication studies as highly valuable and a crucial asset to major tech companies, specifically Google and Facebook (Jarrett, 2014). Kylie Jarrett, media scholar who has researched and identified how tech giant, Google, is collecting user data for its own economic advantage, states that, “our user data become the economic surplus that allows Google to continue to grow, build more server farms, and engage in research and development to identify new tools or systems to further capture our user data” (Jarrett, 2014, p. 19). Jarrett deduces that Google is a “capitalist enterprise” (Jarrett, 2014), hence reinforcing the importance of our user data and its commercial value to major tech companies.

“Whenever I instinctively reach for my phone to ‘ask Mr. Google’ that nagging question to which I do not know the answer, I participate in yet another perpetuation of that capitalist rationality.” – Kylie Jarrett, 2014 – Media Scholar

Facebook, another major tech giant, is in the process of collecting user data in a project titled, ‘Project Aria’. Similarly to Google cars which map the world for Google Street View, Facebook is providing their employees with their own set of research glasses, equipped with multiple cameras, microphones and sensors, to map the physical realm (Gilbert, 2020).

This data will be used in the creation of augmented reality eyewear, set to be released to the public in 2021 (Gilbert, 2020). In order for Project Aria to document an accurate representation of the physical realm, it will be scanning the world continuously, hence developing a very valuable stream of data about humans and their natural movements (Pesce, 2017). “Facebook will be watching this and learning from users’ passage through the world, feeding that data into their machine-learning profiles, and improving the capacity of those profiles to generate a view onto an ideal world” (Pesce, 2017, p. 1). In other words, Facebook is developing an augmented reality platform which will provide them with so much power, profitability, and commercial gain, all at the expense of your privacy.

 

Augmented Reality Today And In The Future: What To Expect

Although major tech companies are exploiting augmented reality for their own commercial gain, some brands have implemented augmented reality into their online retail experience which has its perks for not only the business, but its consumers. The Iconic, an Australian online fashion and sports retailer, has developed ‘Visualise’; an augmented reality experience on their app which allows users to virtually ‘try-on’ a pair of sneakers, through the capabilities of their smartphones from the comfort of their own home (The Iconic, 2020). Through challenging times for the retail industry as a result of COVID-19 in 2020, The Iconic has rehabilitated and reformatted its user’s online shopping experience through augmented reality, allowing consumers to try on before they buy (RagTrader, 2019).

The Iconic is the first retailer in the Asia-Pacific region to launch an augmented reality shopping experience to its consumers (RagTrader, 2019), however the experience has only been developed for shoes so far. As augmented reality merges more into everyday life, the privacy concerns for consumers will escalate. Any form of augmented reality, from the screens of smartphones to eyewear produced by tech giants, will all be collating your personal information and data for the benefit of the databases for these companies, and for the development of their augmented reality products and platforms. In order for augmented reality to work and be successful, these systems must also act as, “sophisticated surveillance systems” (Pesce, 2017, p. 1), hence gathering your personal data. With only a few augmented reality platforms being launched so far, such as The Iconic’s virtual try-on experience for shoes and the prototype of Facebook’s research glasses, my concerns surrounding privacy and data collection are still timid, however, I am hesitant for when these money-hungry tech giants and brands begin releasing augmented reality products which will become embedded into everyday life. More and more data will be collected every day, hence further blurring the boundaries between my public and private life.

 

In Conclusion…

Tech giants such as Google and Facebook are in the process of collecting and using our user data in the developmental stages of augmented reality products for their own commercial benefits. Our personal data is a highly valuable asset in the digital age and for the development of augmented reality, and we must not be naïve or ignorant about this. Despite this, augmented reality is also being used in on a commercial level for the benefit of consumers, such as virtual retail shopping experiences. As augmented reality is becoming more prevalent in everyday life, we must be continually cautious of our data and who has access to it.

 

Reference List

Craig, A. B. ( 2013). What is Augmented Reality. In A. B. Craig, Understanding augmented reality : concepts and applications. (pp. 1-37). Oxford : Elsevier Science.

Facebook. (2020, September 16). Announcing Project Aria: A Research Project on the Future of Wearable AR. Retrieved from Facebook: https://about.fb.com/news/2020/09/announcing-project-aria-a-research-project-on-the-future-of-wearable-ar/

Gilbert, B. (2020, September 18). Facebook employees with video camera glasses are prowling the streets to do research on privacy. Retrieved from Business Insider: https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/facebook-project-aria-smart-glasses-cameras-employees-public-2020-9-1029600865#

Jarrett, K. (2014). A database of intention. Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search, 16-29.

Pesce, M. (2017, December 1). The Last Days of Reality. Retrieved from Meanjin: https://meanjin.com.au/essays/the-last-days-of-reality/

RagTrader. (2019, November 14). The Iconic launches “game-changing” technology. Retrieved from Rag Trader: https://www.ragtrader.com.au/news/the-iconic-launches-game-changing-technology

The Iconic. (2020). Mobile Apps. Retrieved from The Iconic: https://www.theiconic.com.au/mobile-apps/

 

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About Emilie Sorensen 3 Articles
Student at The University of Sydney studying Media & Communications