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The Case Against Augmented Reality

Submitted by on Wednesday, 27 January 201030 Comments

AR Banned
Gianmarco at the University of Computer Science in Bologna (Italy) asked an interesting question a few days ago on the cons of augmented reality. When talking about AR we are always looking on the positive side so in response to Gianmarco’s question I was thinking about the negatives.

Privacy: We discussed before about user being able to geotag your content without you having control. For example your mother comes over to your house and tweets about your priceless collection of Ming dynasty vases. Your home location is geotagged and out there for all to see along with details of your most valued possession. An enterprising thief using the latest version of BurglAR would be able to see high value items worth stealing in the local area. While geotagging is a concern it’s not really a problem caused by augmented reality, your mother may choose to upload a geotagged picture of your Ming vases to Facebook or Flickr so the same data would be available in Google maps.

Location: There are numerous applications to share you location data, Google Latitude, Ping, Hayway to name just a few. Location data is not live, an application has to request your location or you have to update it periodically so people are unable to see your movements in real time.  Can anything negative come from people knowing your presence? Possibly a thief could see when you are out and come can take your Ming collection but again it’s not augmented reality making it possible.

3rd Party Data: Layar are doing really well in getting developers to build 3rd party layers so I took a look through the list of the 300 or so to see if there is anything there that could be construed as potentially evil. If we are playing the role of criminal mastermind then we’d be disappointed to learn that Layar isn’t going to help us with our quest for world domination. There are interesting layers that will tell me what products have been sold in an area so I could have my band of henchmen patrolling the streets trying to track down high value items that have just been sold. But I’m sure the data is not live and any would be master criminal would do better sitting outside a local electronics’s store and following someone home.

Users: Users are at risk from augmented reality but mostly though stupidity rather than the technology. For example, driving while messing around with the phone or falling down a manhole because they are not looking where they are going, but the same goes for twittering while driving or walking.

Hollywood: There is a very real risk of crappy AR themed movies. Remember Lawnmower man for virtual reality?

It’s difficult to see any negative in the current implementation of mobile augmented reality as it’s really about taking data from other sources and presenting them in a new view. The data is freely available from other sources and just presented differently.

Is there no potential for evil with augmented reality?

Face recognition: When augmented reality technology becomes powerful enough and we can recognise individuals just by point a phone at them (or through AR glasses) then I think we’ll see some negative. Lets imaging someone builds an application that scans the police crime database. You might happen to share similar features as a known criminal and find yourself banned from stores, worse you could falsely be recognised as a sex offender and have your life ruined.

Advertising: Love it or hate it it’s everywhere. Location aware advertising has been in the works for a while with the promise/threat of offers being sent directly to our mobile devices as we are walking down the highstreet. Depending on your point of view, intrusive advertising could be a negative feature.

Porn: Considering the porn industry is usually the first to adopt new technology it has been remarkably slow to exploit virtual reality or augmented reality. Negative? definitely if you’re the wrong end of the business and being exploited.

Augmented Reality Porn

I failed to find any immediate negative issues, so let me ask you. If you were planning on becoming a master criminal hell bent on either taking over the world or planning the crime of the century, how would augmented reality help you achieve your goal?

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  • halfelin said:

    I just love the idea.
    True criminals don’t steal or murder people, they pirate music and movies! My evil AR app would feature virtual illegal cinemas with leaked screeners.

  • Tweets that mention The Case Against Augmented Reality | Augmented Planet -- said:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark A.M. Kramer, Franck_Briand, Nick DeMartino, julius01, MoJoe and others. MoJoe said: The Case Against Augmented Reality – did someone say 'burglAR'? [...]

  • Gianmarco said:

    Good Morning I would like to thank you so much for the article and I am glad that my question has allowed to think about the cons of AR.
    I put you on my blog roll, so if you want to do the same with my blog, is ok :)

  • rouli said:

    I do see a problem with “augmented vandalism”. I can imagine a world where swastikas (for example) are painted using virtual ink and you won’t be able to “paint over them”.
    Of course, everything problematic with AR has it roots in the computer vision or the location based components of AR. It doesn’t mean that AR doesn’t make it more accessible and alluring to future bandits.

  • Blowfelt said:

    Good idea. If I was planning to use AR to help me with crime this is what I’d do.

    Get Layar and use the airplane locater, then I could blackmail airlines and demand £10 million not to shoot down their planes. I would be able to point my android at the skies and see what airline that is in the distance, if they haven’t paid I’d use one of my ground to air missiles to shoot it down. they would soon pay!

    I’m not sure of the market value of a ground to air missile but an AR app that shows me the location of the nearest ATMs would be useful, then I could drag them away in my 4×4 and take the money while saving for my missiles.

    All thats missing is a layar that will tell me the location of the nearest police cars so I know when to plot my perfect crime.

  • gdever said:

    Interesting point of view.

  • Klintron said:

    Here’s another possible “evil” use of augmented reality:

  • David Cheney said:

    AR, like any tool, will be used for good and for evil. For a couple of other really creative presentations of AR Dystopias, see

  • Ariel Diaz said:

    Interesting article. I tend to only think about the positives of technology, but should be better about seeing all sides. I tend to agree that most of the challenges and negatives about AR can be readily addressed, but it’s certainly good to start thinking about them to start preparing. I left more thoughts on a recent blog post:

  • Daniyr Safiq said:

    I translated this article into Russian. You may read it on this page:
    Thank you for yours interesting articles

  • Envisioning the future of Augmented (hyper)Reality « Edge of Tomorrow said:

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  • Josh said:

    Posted this in the Beyond the Beyond link too, but all seems quite on those comments, not sure if anyone reads them!

    It’s not surprising that with any new tool there will be ways to use if maliciously. However, occasionally a technology dramatically changes the game. For example, by reducing the effort needed to get meaningful results, Data Mining has transformed our relationship to casual data tracking.

    One the one hand Augmented Reality can similarly redefine our visualization of data to give a wholly new experience of our environment. On the other hand, any active participation in an AR landscape is tied to geo-tagged micro-blogging (what I call Geogging) and the potential for vast, emergent pattern tracking.

    Computer games offer a huge insight into possible future uses of Augmented Reality. I originally became interested in the potential of AR when playing the Parkour game Mirror’s Edge; from the first-person perspective of running around city rooftops (often pursued by police), paths of escape are indicated by colour codes. I see this provision of leveraged information as key, providing a situational awareness advantage in any sort of conflict.

    Shady characters of the criminal underworld (or whichever Badguy you’re worried about), can tag and share spatial/temporal information with each other in the same way Crackers share exploits and Phishers share creditcard numbers.

    Consider the GPS in Grand Theft Auto. How hard would it be to crowd-source police car locations with an iPhone app, augment your GPS, and orchestrate a getaway? It’s something thousands of people have practised, stoned at home on their couch.

    Hiro from Snowcrash can use his Augmented Reality to get a free car, with a pinch of social networking.

    Finally, as mentioned above, the use of AR applications will fuel the shift into geo-tagged social networking/micro-blogging. Local police already monitor Facebook and Twitter to pre-empt flashmobs and illegal parties. The unintended composite power of a constellation of personal/spatial/temporal data will be enormous, and there is no barrier to access; anyone can use it.

    I am currently working on PhD research into Augmented Reality and micro-blogging and their use to collaboratively map an urban landscape (I.e real-time maps of crisis situations, such as an earthquake). I have written about this recently in an article called Building Point Clouds of Emotions.

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  • Dennis said:

    One issue I didn’t see mentioned is distraction. Tourists in a city looking through an AR smartphone app are likely to be distracted enough for pickpockets and other petty criminals to more easily take advantage of them. Sure, petty criminals have ways of taking advantage of people anyway, but the opportunity is extended because of the app. Likewise, some people have issues walking and talking on the phone at the same time. They have a tendency to walk into traffic because they are not paying attention. The same is likely to happen with AR goggles if they ever become popular. Most people, even women, can only pay attention to a limited number of things. If they are distracted by the data on augmenting their view, they are likely to be too distracted to notice an attacker, a car, or some other very sudden danger. People get lost on the internet. They look at the time and realize they spent three hours, and they often can’t remember what they were looking at. Now, take that distraction and apply it to a mobile device in a big city, and something similar and potentially much more dangerous is likely to occur.

  • Veille technologique du 30 janvier au 1 février said:

    [...] The Case Against Augmented Reality | Augmented Planet – Gianmarco at the University of Computer Science in Bologna (Italy) asked an interesting question a few days ago on the cons of augmented reality. When talking about AR we are always looking on the positive side so in response to Gianmarco’s question I was thinking about the negatives. [...]

  • Reeaz said:

    There is lots of potentials for Do Goody Good Bullshit Doers with augmented reality

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  • Hugo Garcia said:

    AR is not a threat for disposing confidential information, because AR is only about presenting information that is already disposed.

    The ming vase case is a problem for internet and social networks. That is something we must learn to avoid.

    The biggest threats from AR are distraction and coordenation of crime activities.

    Soon, soldiers will be using coordenation by AR for good or bad.

    The most creative use for criminal activity I can remember is forcing someone to rob a bank using AR-glasses, while he is seeing is son being hijacked.

  • ronald reagan said:

    Happy shiny people. About time you started reading some Margaret Atwood.

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