The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is warning about the impending rise of Augmented Reality (AR), and the extreme threat that it poses to people’s privacy. In that regard, the organization believes that AR represents a unique threat to civil liberties, since it pairs real-time location data with dynamic video and audio surveillance that can be analyzed with facial recognition, gait recognition, and other technologies.
AR is also unique insofar as it would be virtually impossible to opt out of the resulting surveillance network. If AR headsets become as ubiquitous as smartphones, people would almost certainly be within sight (and within earshot) of an AR sensor at all times while they are in public. As a result, governments and corporations would have a comprehensive record of everything that private citizens do and say while they are out and about, even if they are not wearing an AR device and would otherwise expect to have a degree of privacy.
With that in mind, the EFF is stressing the need for strong data privacy protections. That applies to corporations and governments alike. For example, the organization suggests that tech companies should not store every bit of information just because they can, especially since the government could force them to hand over that data at a later date. Instead, corporations should collect only the minimal amount of data needed to provide the services their customers want, and should give those customers more control over the data that does get collected.
The organization also points out that many countries have legislation that protects people’s civil liberties, and that courts have often ruled that that guarantees a certain amount of anonymity in public, if only because surveillance used to be difficult and expensive. Unfortunately, AR makes it much easier (and much cheaper) to monitor civilians, and the EFF is worried that governments will be tempted to abuse that power.
The EFF is ultimately afraid that AR will lead to the rise of a dystopian panopticon if governments and businesses do not take proactive steps to protect people’s privacy. It notes that while there was pushback against Google Glass in 2013, tech giants like Facebook and Apple are still working to bring commercial AR to the market.