In 2015, a study from researchers at Chapman University showed that americans are more scared by technology than by death. A new survey by Znet confirms that technophobia is a real thing, with killing robots and AI being the biggest fear. For the first time, augmented reality is on the list.
Talking to hundred of people over the past year at various events, conferences or interviews, I noticed that most concerns are about augmented reality headsets (not smartphone AR) on topics such as intrusiveness, advertising and privacy. I decided to address 3 of the most common fears I have faced when talking to the public about AR and our monetisation solution.
Most concerns about AR are related to intrusiveness, advertising and privacy
Fear no 1. We will be continually bombarded with content in our AR headsets.
This is a fairly logical fear to have, but luckily this won’t be the case. In fact, I believe that, a decade out, we will spend most of our time wearing headsets, but the time actually spent interacting with AR content will be relatively minimal. Most of the time, the headset will display nothing but transparency to the real world.
The value of AR is in the ability to augment your experience by visualising digital content in front of our eyes – that doesn’t mean this augmentation will be constant. In fact, AR content developers will very quickly learn not to abuse their power – or suffer the consequences. More than anything, they will need users to keep their app installed, to have the ability to reach them when relevant. So, abuse them with intrusive content once, and find yourself banned forever – similar to how some mobile apps are getting deleted immediately after the first use because they contain too much ads. The difference is that in AR, our tolerance for disruption will be much, much lower. Mistakes won’t be forgiven.
Bottomline: like every device or media before it, consuming AR content will always be opt-in. If people feel like the content is too intrusive or inappropriate, they’ll stop using the app, or even take the headset off, just like they turn off the TV or throw their newspaper away. The ecosystem will self-regulate in that way.
Fear no 2. There are going to be ads everywhere.
Many people have seen Hyperreality (a great dystopian film directed by Keichii Mastuda) and think that their worlds will be filled with ads – see below. I am the founder of the first adtech solution for immersive tech, so would have a financial incentive in promoting this idea, but fortunately for the world, it won’t be the case.
The first thing to address is that advertising is going to be necessary for AR to prosper. It has been the backbone of every single mass media until now, and it won’t be different for immersive technologies, whether it is AR or VR. Here is one thing that people hate more than advertising: paying for content. Sure, Netflix, Spotify or Steam are revolutionising this to some level. But this is for content with artistic value, which historically was way more expensive, so we are happy to pay the discounted monthly subscription. There will be similar platforms in VR/AR. But most people expect digital content to be free, making advertising a sound business model.
Here is one thing that people hate more than advertising: paying for content
Right now, advertisers know a lot about their end users’ hard data – demographics, location, etc. But they lack contextual information, related to what the user is doing now. By design, a AR headset’s camera can see your environment just like you can, and understand it through computer vision algorithms. So, while your smartphone could only know your location in a 0.2 mile radius, the AR headset will now that you are currently entering a Zara shop and looking for jeans, or entering a grocery store, or simply meeting a friend in the street.
Armed with that information, brands will have the ability to deliver very strong and impactful messages at the right time, right in front of your eyes. Looking for jeans? They are on the second floor and by the way, get 10% off if you buy 3. Shopping in Walmart? If you buy the Barilla tomato sauce, you have all the ingredients to make a bolognese. Just bumped into a friend? Take her to Starbucks in the next 10 minutes and she’ll get a free coffee.
We can only imagine the opportunity for brands to become natively part of the conversation. This 2-way engagement started with social media, but AR will push this to the next level. Ads won’t feel like ads, but more like recommendations or offers. Brands will become our friends, our personal assistants, someone that cares and that is always here for us, creating a strong emotional attachement. You can expect a fierce war between brands to become top of mind. There will be no mercy – advertisers going too far will be immediately ostracised by the users.
Brands will become our friends, building a strong emotional attachement
Bottomline: AR ads will be served in the right context, which will prevent a lot of targeting errors and therefore reducing spam. Overall, AR will be more ad-friendly than desktop or mobile web.
Fear no 3. The headset will track everything, I’ll have no privacy.
This is a tough one, because it’s true. Privacy concerns for augmented reality are real, and by design the headset needs to ‘see’ what you see. It is required to function.
Here is the thing: these concerns aren’t specific to AR. Online, privacy is long gone already. However, I believe that for most people, the fundamental issue is not surrendering their privacy. The issue is that they get very little in return – the value exchange is not worth it. In the real world, everyone knows our identity, and we are confortable giving a lot of personal details to our bank, for example, effectively surrendering all privacy to them. But in exchange they’ll keep your money safe. The value exchange is worth it.
Value exchange is about trust. Online, we trust very little. The value exchange is not in our favour – our browsing experience remains pretty much the same despite of what we share, while the big guys – Facebook, Google, Amazon – are the ones profiting from our privacy.
Let’s be honest – we won’t regain an ounce of privacy with AR. But I believe the value exchange will be more in our favour. In other words, sharing your data through your AR headsets will get you an incrementally better experience, because of the contextual element mentioned above. Instead of receiving spam, you’ll get contextual recommendations, but for this, the headset needs complete access to your camera. Deal?
In AR, users opening their privacy to advertisers will have a significantly better experience
It sounds a bit creepy at first, but I believe people will get used to it, for the sake of an incrementally better experience. No one wants ads, but who doesn’t want a friend?
I am the founder of Admix, the first monetisation platform for immersive technologies. Besides VR/AR/MR and adtech, I talk about behaviour changes, the metaverse, and building the future. To stay in touch with me, follow me on Twitter @samhuber or checkout my personal website samhuber.com.