Augmented Reality on the mobile - a legal minefield?
After all the excitement that we had in the second half of last year about this wonderful, new-fangled thing called augmented reality, it seemed as though we had a little period of retrenchment. To borrow the argot of the football terraces, it all went quiet over there. Relatively speaking, of course. The AR apps kept a-comin’: they just weren’t a-comin’ in the volumes that might have been expected. Part of the reason behind this was that it it almost took the industry by surprise: suddenly, there was a confluence of technologies that enabled graphics and data to be overlaid on top of physical objects as seen through the viewfinder of the camera. Science-fiction had landed abruptly on the handset, and service providers weren’t certain how to make best use of it. The upshot was that in most instances it was tagged on crudely to apps which were designed without AR in mind, in much the same way as 3D has been added almost as an afterthought to many films: it wasn’t an integral part of the creation, and therefore the end result doesn’t make best use of the technology. Nor – which is equally pertinent – were they sure how best to make money out of it (a nor which very much remains true today). Advertising? Sponsorship? Subscription services? Answers to this address. But now the market seems to moving again – Dutch AR trailblazer Layar (which had already collected nearly three quarters of a million users by June) is now seeking to establish itself in the smartphone heartland of the US, while we’re now seeing a host of new AR-enabled apps from companies such as FindaProperty.com (in association with MIG). Meanwhile, Qualcomm launched the beta version of its AR software development kit (SDK) earlier this month. So far, so good. And yet, I feel, the problems are about to begin. In the first edition of our Augmented Reality report, published last November, I wrote that the deployment of augmented reality on the mobile could lead to any number of legal issues: “Extreme cases would involve potentially defamatory tags. For example, one individual could tag another’s house with AR graffiti abusing or libelling that person: in some cases (tagging the home of an alleged sex offender) this could quite conceivably lead to other individuals viewing that tag and subsequently perpetrating acts of violence against the subject of the graffiti…” And, eleven months on, I – or rather BeenVerified.com - give you Sex Offender Tracker. The promotional text is worth quoting in full: “Safety and security - it's the most important priority for families and communities everywhere. In an effort to empower people amidst their ever-changing surroundings, BeenVerified.com, America's leading consumer background check and people search company, has released a new mobile app that provides users with access to the location of registered sex offenders through the lens of augmented reality. The new "Sex Offender Tracker" app, available for the iPhone and Droid, displays the exact location of registered sex offenders in real-time, along with detailed information on the sex offender residing at the location. “The application's features allow users to visualize their ever-changing surroundings. Users only have to open the app, point their phone down the street and follow the red dots that provide detailed additional information about registered sex offenders.” This is an incredibly emotive issue, and one which it goes far beyond my remit as an analyst to discuss here. But it is worth pointing out that, in addition to offering peace of mind to families, the app may also offer unrivalled opportunities for vigilantes and (subsequently) the legal profession to excel in their rather different areas of expertise. Augmented Reality on mobile may be on the move at last, but by its very nature, it may be heading for a legal minefield.