Augmented reality (AR) blends the virtual and physical worlds such that the virtual content experienced by a user of AR technology depends on his or her geographic location. With the advent of games such as Pokémon GO and technologies such as HoloLens, an increasing number of people are encountering augmented reality. This raises a number of ethical concerns, among them the issue of who has an ethical right to augment a particular physical space. I address this question by distinguishing 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 acts much like physical property today; 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 right to prevent most augmentations in this case, given that those augmenations do not interfere with the owner’s use of the property. I also discuss several difficult cases such as augmenting a daycare with explicit sexual or violent images.
Public property with competing apps is relatively straightforward, as those apps function much like different guidebooks; they are public comments on public property which do not interfere with each other. Under a unified sphere of augmentation, the matter becomes trickier. Ultimately it is unclear whether augmentations will be seen more as public speech (which we value) or grafitti (which we do not). Unfortunately, there may not be a single answer to this; I suggest the need for further consideration of what kinds of augmentations we view as worth protecting.