Four ethics questions to guide augmented reality projects
When the world locked down, people sought escape through technology. At the beginning of 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that the pandemic led to increased adoption of augmented reality (AR) and that the jump in demand is projected to last for the next five years. French cosmetics brands are using AR. Mercedes-Benz is using AR. And journalism outlets are using it more too. USA Today ramped up immersive storytelling last year.
In September 2020, the New York Times and Facebook signed a multi-year deal to co-develop AR tools for Instagram. Though the Times has experimented with AR in the past, this marked the first time the technology was solely created for social platforms. The publication has already created AR to accompany stories on air pollution and mask-wearing.
As AR and immersive storytelling become more widespread, they bring their own host of ethical issues. For example, the psychological impacts of AR are still being discovered and capture techniques also require more editing and post-production, which could create biased experiences.
Mia Tramz, Brooke Van Dam, Jeremy Gilbert and Steven Johnson had an in-depth conversation about ethics in immersive technology at ONA19. They suggest doing an “ethical scan” of four key areas to think about before building any AR project:
- Privacy: For example, when you’re creating an AR experience that features buildings, are you including people’s houses? Do they want their house included in an AR experience? Make sure to keep legality in mind, especially when using drone footage.
- Ownership: Who owns these images? Does a news org own the replication of a building? If the news org gets sold or if the building gets sold, who owns the AR experience?
- Representation: People are being taken out of the circumstances they’re in and being put into a completely different space. How do you represent that space faithfully and what does it look like?
- Diversity: Just as with traditional journalism, the biases of the creators matter. Who are the creators? Who is the audience? Whose gaze is being assumed and what details might the creator miss or not be culturally sensitive to?
Dig deeper: A Guide to Immersive Ethics (2020)
Takeaways: This detailed guide, developed through our Journalism 360 program, includes four case studies and covers everything from how much to tweak in post-production to the use of illustrations in AR.
We’re always on the lookout for helpful resources and tips. If you have other examples to share, please reply directly to this email.