You may have seen the recent news story about the 'cyber vandalism' of Snapchat’s latest feature – augmented reality (“AR”). Whilst at first glance quite funny, the ‘vandal’ makes a good point about the risk of encroachment into digital spaces.
The premise of Snapchat’s AR feature is that if a user of the app goes to a certain location, opens the app, and looks through their telephone’s camera, they will see a digital item that has been inserted into the real landscape. In this case, the digital item was a replica of a well-known sculpture. The AR works with GPS co-ordinates, meaning that the digital sculpture is anchored to a certain physical location and will be visible to all who use the AR programme at that location.
Whilst at first glance this is all a bit of fun, it opens the door to a variety of scenarios that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. AR software and devices are only going to become more popular, and it is not inconceivable that one company or another could gain a monopoly in the area (Google having made early advances with their wearable AR enabling glasses).
Absent of any regulation, a company that could control the AR locations may well start selling the equivalent of AR billboards – in this context, particular GPS co-ordinates. One can imagine that certain locations would attract a high price – Time Square, or Big Ben. That leaves out the question of whether it is desirable to have AR items anchored to certain locations: the point made by the ‘cyber vandal’.
There are other issues that this raises, such as public decency (i.e. what if the AR item is offensive?) and privacy (i.e. two neighbours fall out, and one buys the GPS co-ordinate for the other’s house and digitally daubs graffiti all over the house). It will be interesting to see how the law adapts to deal with these issues.