Download Full Text (1.2 MB)


The vision for AR dates back at least until the 1960s with the work of Ivan Sutherland. In a way, AR represents a natural evolution of information communication technology. Our phones, cars, and other devices are increasingly reactive to the world around us. But AR also represents a serious departure from the way people have perceived data for most of human history: a Neolithic cave painting or book operates like a laptop insofar as each presents information to the user in a way that is external to her and separate from her present reality. By contrast, AR begins to collapse millennia of distinction between display and environment.

Today, a number of companies are investing heavily in AR and beginning to deploy consumer-facing devices and applications. These systems have the potential to deliver enormous value, including to populations with limited physical or other resources. Applications include hands-free instruction and training, language translation, obstacle avoidance, advertising, gaming, museum tours, and much more.

AR also presents novel or acute challenges for technologists and policymakers, including privacy, distraction, and discrimination.

This whitepaper—which grows out of research conducted across three units through the University of Washington’s interdisciplinary Tech Policy Lab—is aimed at identifying some of the major legal and policy issues AR may present as a novel technology, and outlines some conditional recommendations to help address those issues. Our key findings include:

1. AR exists in a variety of configurations, but in general, AR is a mobile or embedded technology that senses, processes, and outputs data in real-time, recognizes and tracks real-world objects, and provides contextual information by supplementing or replacing human senses.

2. AR systems will raise legal and policy issues in roughly two categories: collection and display. Issues tend to include privacy, free speech, and intellectual property as well as novel forms of distraction and discrimination.

3. We recommend that policymakers—broadly defined—engage in diverse stakeholder analysis, threat modeling, and risk assessment processes. We recommend that they pay particular attention to: a) the fact that adversaries succeed when systems fail to anticipate behaviors; and that, b) not all stakeholders experience AR the same way.

4. Architectural/design decisions—such as whether AR systems are open or closed, whether data is ephemeral or stored, where data is processed, and so on—will each have policy consequences that vary by stakeholder.

Publication Date



University of Washington Tech Policy Law




Computer Law | Science and Technology Law

Augmented Reality: A Technology and Policy Primer