Augmented reality, augmented ethics: who has the right to augment a particular physical space?

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Augmented reality (AR) blends the virtual and physical worlds such that the virtual content experienced by a user of AR technology depends on the user’s geographical location. Games such as Pokémon GO and technologies such as HoloLens are introducing an increasing number of people to augmented reality. AR technologies raise a number of ethical concerns; I focus on ethical rights surrounding the augmentation of a particular physical space. To address this I distinguish public and private spaces; I also separate the case where we access augmentations via many different applications from the case where there is a more unified sphere of augmentation. Private property under a unified sphere of augmentation is akin to physical property; owners retain the right to augment their property and prevent others from augmenting it. Private property with competing apps is more complex; it is not clear that owners have a general right to prevent augmentations in this case, assuming those augmentations do not interfere with the owner’s use of the property. I raise several difficult cases, such as augmenting a daycare with explicit sexual or violent images. Public property with competing apps is relatively straightforward, and most augmentation is ethical; those apps simply function like different guidebooks. Under a unified sphere of augmentation it is unclear whether augmentations should be treated more like public speech (which we value) or graffiti (which we do not) or (most likely) some of each. Further consideration is needed to determine what kinds of augmentations we view as ethical.




Neely, E. L. (2019). Augmented reality, augmented ethics: who has the right to augment a particular physical space? Ethics and Information Technology, 21(1), 11–18.

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