WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2016) – As augmented and virtual reality technologies grow in popularity, they raise new questions about how regulatory frameworks will adapt to concerns over safety, privacy, copyright issues and more, according to a new R Street Institute policy study by Technology Policy Fellow Anne Hobson.

Chief among the products driving the new discussion has been Niantic Inc.’s massively popular smartphone app, Pokémon Go.

“In addition to popularizing AR, Niantic Inc.’s release of Pokémon Go also served as a test case for the technology’s legal and regulatory complications,” Hobson writes. “Public response to its launch revealed concerns about safety, privacy, free expression, cybersecurity, e-commerce and intermediary liability. These include issues stemming both from the input of sensory information that the AR or VR device or platform receives, as well as the output or information conveyed.”

Within days of the app’s release and rapid user base growth, politicians at the federal, state, and local levels had begun publicly calling for regulations on the app and others like it. But heavy-handed regulations could stunt the growth of a burgeoning industry that holds great promise for innovation.

“Regulating facial recognition due to privacy concerns could prevent products that enhance experiences for the visually impaired. Regulating location-based AR apps for safety could prevent the development of more effective exercise apps, navigation apps or apps that provide educational guided tours,” Hobson writes. “The legislative and regulatory response to AR apps will determine who is the bigger buzzkill: the villainous Team Rocket or the U.S. government?”

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