Can agutmented reality really live up to expectations? Transformative new technique or privacy trouble maker?

Society has great expectations for the capabilities of agumented reality, hoping that it will bring transformative technology, but in fact, today's AUGMENTED reality may bring more concerns about privacy and ethics... .

Image by turkletom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  Today, augmented reality has become a technology getting closer to our lives. From Facebook announced the plans to develop AR, to the lidar scanning technology that Apple released last month with its new iPhone12 pro, the technic giant is pushing AR technique. And for the general public, the latest encounter with AR technology is a Pokemongo, a new experience AR game that hit the world in recent years. But behind this hilarity of the new innovation and giant technique company, there are many moral considerations and social concerns for the new technology. As the biggest beneficiary of AR promotion, technology companies have the right to further collect user information to further increse the economic benefits. AR’s applying required users’ cameras/microphones, which allow technology companies or governments to further tap into each user’s life from smartphones. Besides, there are also many social issues that might be raised with AR technology. This article will introduce the history and characteristics of augmented reality technology and discuss some of the concerns and controversies caused by this new technology transform in the current social environment.

what is augment reality?

  Augment reality could be regarded as a digital graphic’s supplement for reality vision, as Kee and compeau stated (2019, p.2), augmented reality overlays digital content into the real world, it helps people to see the ‘computer’s view’ for the real-world environment. In modern society, the augmented reality technology emerged with the the help of rapid development of graphic cards and mobile devices.

An augmented reality demo from Youtube user Current

While the history of Augment reality could be traced to 50 years ago. When a jet fighter pilot controls the flight system, there is a huge amount of critical information on the screen, and pilots have to make life-or-death decisions with massive information. Hence, augmented reality has been designed to turn large amounts of data into easy-to-understand images to help them make decisions faster and better (Pesce, 2017). And for today, The main function of augmenting reality is to help people learn and understand objects in the real world, supplying and explaining things through virtual enhancement (Kee & Compeau, 2019). As a mediation new form of media, Augment reality has 5 essential characters, which make it unique and irreplaceable(Ma, Gausemeier, Fan, Grafe, 2011).

  1. Mobility: it is designed for suiting the mobile application.
  2. Real-time capability: the digital information is always shown on the real object in real-time.
  3. Relation to context: the information is largely related to the real environment.
  4. Intuitiveness: the data is primarily displayed in an easy-understanding way.
  5.  Interactivity: the user could freely control the graphic on-scree

Based on these 5 features, we can tell that augment Reality is an information medium based on reality, which needs scanning of real objects to render. With the development of smartphones and cameras as well as networks, Augment Reality has a greater applying environment today.

New technology? New privacy issues?

Augmented reality has become particularly popular as new technology. Tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google are all trying to build their own augmented reality device businesses today (Pesce, 2017). Last month, Apple introduced the latest iPhone12pro and iPhone12 pro max, which features a laser scan function to further enhance the device’s AR capabilities. But during the process of technology companies pushing the AR technique, it also raised some concerns about privacy issues.

In our life, smartphones have already blurred the boundaries of what the tech giants touch on individual users’ privacy. While the augmented reality might increase the process. Professor Philip, the Federal University of Munich has made research about the AR device pricy issue, he claimed, for the user’s privacy and to the people around the user’s environment AR is always a privacy threat. Because AR technology can “see” what the user sees, it applied on the smartphone that people carry around, always asks users to scan the world around them, including the places they often visit or are interested in. For the data collecter, the information about users’ real-world is more valuable than just the location. And smartphones with augment reality function provide a perfect way of collecting. As technologies like AR expanded, so have the touch and oversight of private life by tech companies.

How to “correctly” use augmented reality?

Besides the ethical privacy and economic concern, augmented reality also raised many disputes in a social sense. On the positive side, Augmented reality can serve as an active art-creative and educational tool. As Prodromou (2020) stated, for the children achieving digital literacy learning goals, augmented reality is consistent with the characteristics of education, the degree of participation, interest, and mutual discussion. With the help of augmented reality, children can search, group, and process information as answers.

Augmented reality is applied to medical learning

On the other hand, augmented reality as an existential tool, not everyone will use “well” or “ideally”. Pesce (2017) addressed such concerns. Will augmented reality be used to post racist and hate speech? Will there be groups that use augmented reality to mark “invadable” homes that only they can see? The emergence and wide application of new technology will bring some benefits to society, but also bring worries. In today’s fast-advancing world of augmented reality, tech giants are reaping the most benefits from argument reality, while leaving plenty of ethical concerns and privacy issues to the public.

How do we address Augmented reality?

   At present, augmented reality technology is mainly reflected in the application of mobile phones. Many mobile apps (especially games) require us to interact with the interface through augmented reality. Whenever I try to use augmented reality, the phone will remind me, “This app will try to access your camera/microphone/location”. Augmented reality’s need for the camera seems to provide application manufacturers with a “necessary excuse” to access my privacy. No matter it is an educational app or a game , the producer can get my information after all. For instance, The game Onmyoji will require the player to use the AR function to summon characters in the game.

Onmyyoji’s AR function display by Youtuber RUN SI

Based on the location, the application producers can also see the environment in which I scan objects, or my voice, which is a very sensitive issue for privacy touches. The truth is, though, that the augmented reality features in mobile apps didn’t increase much about my learning life or gaming experience. The app that required to turn on camera/microphone/location permissions is more focused on access to the device rather than actually using augmented reality to achieve an irreplaceable experience. Like 3D movies, AR technology at the present stage is more like a celebration of the media, requiring people to pay attention to the particularity of the media function, rather than the content it presents.


To sum up,  AR technology is currently in the early stages of development. As a complement to the existence of objects in the real world, AR technology is relatively rare in the actual use of mobile phone screens at present. It is also more like the Remediation of a medium, emphasizing the medium itself rather than the content conveyed by the medium. Technology companies and app developers, who are pushing hard for the technology, are the biggest beneficiaries of AR technology now. The requirements for cameras, microphones, and location permissions make it convenient for them to collect a large amount of user information. In addition, it also needs to consider that whether the AR technique will be used for some unethical purposes, such as “marking the target” that only a group can see, to help them achieve the purpose. In short, The development and application of technology require a long process of adjustment. For AR technology’s application today, there are still many security, privacy, and ethical concerns left by it.


Reference List:

Pesce, M. The Last Days of Reality. Retrieved

Philpp, R. Augmented Reality and Privacy Concerns. Retrieved

Prodromou, T. (2020). Augmented reality in educational settings [Map]. Brill .

KEE, K., & COMPEAU, T. (Eds.). (2019). Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History. ANN ARBOR: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from

Ma, D., Gausemeier, J., Fan, X., & Grafe, M. (Eds.). (2011). Virtual reality and augmented reality in industry. ProQuest Ebook Central

Jinwei He
About Jinwei He 2 Articles
A 3rd-year student in bachelor of arts Gender studies major. Interested in internet culture/pop-culture/queer-culture and music~