How Does AR Alter the Concept of Privacy in Public Space? New ITIF Report Identifies Five Key Areas of Concern; Provides Roadmap for Applying Existing Laws and Regulations

December 14, 2020

WASHINGTON—Augmented reality (AR)—an immersive technology that overlays digitally rendered content on a user’s physical environment—is the latest tool to challenge legal and social norms related to personal privacy and data protection. A new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, examines the expansion of AR into public space and finds that the technology amplifies and reorders longstanding issues around digital privacy—including the very definition public space—and raises new questions about transparency and choice, government use, child safety, and voluntary codes of conduct. The report concludes that policymakers should address these concerns by thoughtfully applying existing laws and regulations.

“The concerns that AR raises are not unique—smartphones, body cameras, autonomous vehicles, and other new technologies have raised similar concerns. But AR amplifies and recombines existing privacy issues for bystanders,” says ITIF Research Analyst Ellysse Dick, who authored the report. “The way AR devices continuously collect, analyze, and display personal data in real time challenges existing norms. Adopting AR devices widely will require a shift in social and legal definitions of privacy and public space.”

According to the ITIF report, debates around privacy and public space in an AR era should address five key areas of concern:

  1. Redefining public space and the “reasonable expectations” of privacy;
  2. Developing practices for transparency and choice;
  3. Implementing restrictions on government use and access;
  4. Protecting children; and
  5. Adopting voluntary practices and codes of conduct.

Policymakers should develop safeguards that allow for shifting perceptions of privacy in the public space, the report argues. Many existing privacy rules and practices can be adapted or directly enforced to address the privacy challenges that AR poses. ITIF recommends that policymakers approach concerns about privacy in the hybrid realities that AR creates within the context of these existing frameworks and implement the following measures:

  1. Allow existing laws and regulations to address privacy concerns in public spaces.
  2. Develop guidelines to inform transparency and choice measures protecting bystander privacy.
  3. Develop standardized approaches to government AR procurement and use.
  4. Ensure child protection measures encourage innovation while mitigating potential harms.
  5. Encourage self-regulation and voluntary codes of conduct through a formal multi-stakeholder process.

“Policymakers should not create unique regulations for AR devices and services, but they should facilitate private sector development of voluntary standards, best practices, and codes of conduct,” adds Dick. “As a technology becomes more ubiquitous in society, solutions to privacy concerns may emerge as a result of social norms and market responses. AR is positioned to follow this cycle. However, this will only be possible if rules and regulations allow for innovation toward these solutions.”

Read the report.