Augmented reality (AR) has been promising to be the next big evolution in how we see the world for years now - remember Google Glass? But PokémonGo's explosive popularity is bringing privacy (and property rights) issues to the fore that were previously just hypothetical, beyond just Niantic trying to access your emails.
Pokemon Go creates a range of virtual information about real world locations - some places have Pokemon to catch, others are 'Pokéstops' where you can stock up on in-game items. But property owners don't control what goes up in PokémonGo's virtual world. So we have players swarming Washington DC's Holocaust Museum looking for Pokéballs, and others loitering around a Massachusetts man's house which is now a PokémonGym.
The Guardian is right: at the moment, there's no property (or intellectual property) right in the virtual space around your home, your business, or even your person. It's no leap to imagine AR providers taking ad money to send players to particular locations - cafes which are Pokestops have seen huge sales booms - or discourage them from visiting others. In fact PokémonGo's launch in Japan was delayed because Niantic was inking a deal with McDonalds which will see its 3000+ Japanese restaurants become 'Pokégyms'. And if this technology becomes more ubiquitous, AR providers could really change what you see; a billboard in virtual space (complimenting an AR Google or Facebook app, maybe) could become more valuable than a physical one.
The short-term solution is to let people opt out of inclusion in specific apps: designate your home a Pokémon-free-zone. But if AR becomes a bigger part of our lives, we'll need a better solution - one that balances privacy against the need for personal freedom in how we virtually augment our realities.
But even though the interests of Niantic and landowners happen to coincide for now, there’s no guarantee that state of affairs is universal. And if – or rather, when – the edge-case arrives, it’s not entirely clear what the right response is. Who does own the virtual space around you? I can’t put a billboard on your house without asking you; but is it so obvious that I should be allowed to put a virtual billboard “on” your house without giving you any say in the matter?