Privacy issues in augmented reality applications

Augmented reality


Augmented reality is a technology that has a certain influence on the future development of the world, and it has triggered intense discussions and controversies in various fields. Today, many Internet companies are committed to the development of augmented reality devices. This is not only to showcase the company’s advanced technical fields but also to get ahead in the commercial market. As we know, Internet companies obtain commercial benefits by collecting and analyzing large amounts of user data and then pushing specific content to users. And many critics believe that the big data collected by these Internet companies violates the privacy of users. The use of augmented reality will involve more biotechnology, real-time tracking, and information collection. Therefore, will the use of augmented reality technology aggravate privacy issues? And what is the use of AR in advertising and marketing? This article presents an argument about augmented reality and the use of AR technology by digital companies will expose more privacy issues, which may be caused by the commercialization of information.

At the beginning of the article, I will briefly introduce the development history of AR, how it has become part of the future development trend of many Internet companies, and explain how AR can be used for digital commercialization. Secondly, what privacy issues will the use of augmented reality technology bring about? Does it involve economic or political fields? Finally, I will explain what impact the privacy issues in AR will have?


History of AR

Augmented reality is abbreviated as AR, also known as mixed reality. This is a technology that blends virtual information with the real world. It uses a combination of science and technology, simulation, computer photography, and other technologies to superimpose entity information that is otherwise difficult to experience in real space onto reality in a virtual way. And received by people’s senses, so as to achieve a sensory experience beyond reality, virtual and reality exist in the same space. When it comes to the origin of AR, I have to mention Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist and winner of the Turing Award in 1988. In 1966, he led the development of The Sword of Damocles system, which is generally considered to be the prototype of HMD head-mounted display devices and augmented reality.

Figure 1 Head-mounted display (HMD)
Figure 1 Head-mounted display (HMD)

However, the term “enhancement” was formally proposed in 1990. Later, AR began to develop in various fields and was first developed by the US Air Force as a virtual help system. And AR began to enter the public’s field of vision from the invention of AR Toolkit. This project was developed in 1999 by Kato Hirokazu of Nara Institute of Science and Technology, and its main function is Computer tracking.

Figure 2 AR Toolkit 1999
Figure 2 AR Toolkit 1999

With the continuous development of technology and the updating of mobile devices, AR can also be realized through mobile phones or game consoles. For example, Pokémon Go is an AR mobile game. People can see virtual Pokémon in the real world through the camera of the mobile phone. The game uses GPS mobile positioning to capture and train Pokémon and fight with other players’ Pokémon.

Figure 3 Pokémon Go
Figure 3 Pokémon Go

Now, many Internet companies are also committed to the development of AR functions and devices for mobile apps. On F8, Facebook demonstrated to users that the AR function in the app brings a rich sensory experience, which will change the way people see the world. The Facebook application will enhance the image through the phone’s camera function. People can see their combination with virtual objects through the phone screen, for example, try on shoes through AR.

Video 1: AR trial shoes 1

Facebook is also working on developing AR glasses, which can be used for complex 3D modeling and painting. But Facebook is not the only company looking forward to the future of AR. Google and Apple have similar goals and are working hard to achieve this. AR technology will enable huge innovations in mobile phone applications. Facebook is working hard to let users see the news that will jump off the smartphone screen and posted on the visible real world (Pace, 2017). Technology companies are also well aware of the attractiveness of AR technology applications to users and recognize the economic value it brings.


Private issues

As AR technology will use biological tracking and real-time positioning technology, user privacy has become a challenge for the development of augmented reality. The augmented reality system must act as a very complex surveillance device, it needs to scan everything in reality, and constantly learn and adapt (Pace, 2017). Facebook has always been controversial for collecting and analyzing user data. Facebook pushes targeted advertisements to users by analyzing personal data and even controls the results of US presidential votes. Among them, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach scandals swept the global social media. Not only that, “Facebook can also learn about the changes in users’ emotions through data analysis. And according to experimental results, the push of specific content can change people’s positive and negative emotions” (Pace, 2017).

This has to make people worry about whether AR technology will increase the risk of privacy exposure. Advanced intelligent robots will have more powerful learning capabilities, and they may know us better than ourselves. In order to enable AR to interact directly with people, biometric recognition is very important for the development of AR technology in the future. And, until now, facial recognition technology is very common, which is not only used to unlock mobile phones but also to link bank accounts and payments. However, the information being collected may have certain security risks, and the company does not explicitly guarantee that users’ personal information will not be leaked or used in commercial activities (Wassom, 2014).

Reality augmentation enables virtual information to be displayed in real space, and data augmentation brings new privacy issues (Wassom, 2014). Fast transmission of virtual information in real space requires a lot of data processing and analysis. If we can hide our true identities on social networks, then with the support of AR technology, this setting is almost impossible to achieve. All user information will be exposed, such as personal identity, political background, mood swings, health status, financial status, etc. In addition, the real-time monitoring of users with AR mobile devices provides good conditions for privacy stealing and monitoring. Therefore, the conditions for the coexistence of personal privacy and technology have become the first consideration for relevant departments and Internet companies.

Video 2: Hyper-Reality presents a provocative future


The impact of augmented reality

The concept video of augmented reality shows people’s vision for future life, but it will also pose certain challenges to economic development and related political departments. It not only intensified the commercialization of data but also made the privacy protection problem more severe. In the economic field, companies that have more user data will have a huge advantage in business. In terms of the current number of users, Facebook and Google have achieved greater advantages in the future development of AR.

Figure 4 vision of a world saturated with augmented advertising
Figure 4 vision of a world saturated with augmented advertising

However, privacy regulations and transparency in data use have not been better monitored. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is due to deficiencies in relevant legal constraints. Therefore, before AR technology is widely used, relevant departments may formulate more detailed privacy protection regulations and impose certain restrictions on the application of products.

“AR will change people’s lifestyles and improve people’s lives” (Pace, 2017). AR technology can be applied in various fields, whether in medical, education, engineering, art, or marketing. It will convert text information in mobile devices into visual images, help people better capture information, and bring a new experience.


In conclusion

Augmented reality technology will make a big leap in the Internet economy, and more comprehensive and detailed real user information has great commercial value. This will not only promote the development of the Internet economy but also create more emerging industries. It can be said that AR technology will set off a huge storm in the economic field. However, the ensuing privacy protection problem is also a problem that people face. The use of AR will involve facial scan information, richer personal data, and real-time monitoring of issues. These privacy issues require the government and relevant departments to reconsider and establish relevant laws and regulations. These issues will become an indispensable part of the future development of AR technology.





Brian, W. (n.d.-a). Chapter 3: Privacy – Augmented Reality Law, Privacy, and Ethics. Retrieved 30 October 2020, from

Brian, W. (n.d.-b). Chapter 4: Advertising, Marketing, and eCommerce – Augmented Reality Law, Privacy, and Ethics. Retrieved 30 October 2020, from

Jones, N. (2020). Spaces Mapped and Monstrous: Digital 3D Cinema and Visual Culture. In Spaces Mapped and Monstrous. Columbia University Press.

Pace, M. (2017). The Last Days of Reality.

Wassom, B. (2014). Augmented Reality Law, Privacy, and Ethics: Law, Society, and Emerging AR Technologies. Syngress.



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