Study: Augmented Reality and Privacy Concerns

Augmented Reality (AR), per definition, collects and processes a lot of information about a user and his/her environment. Therefore, it is not surprising that privacy concerns are among the most frequently discussed topics when it comes to AR. But (how) do privacy risks influence consumers? Our recent JBR-study provides answers!

Augmented Reality and Privacy Concerns

When it comes to AR, two forms of privacy concerns play an important role: The threat to a user’s privacy, and the threat to other people. A user’s privacy can be threatened because AR technologies can “see” what the user sees. Thus, AR can collect a lot of information about who the user is and what he/she is doing. Similar, and even more intensely, than social networks do. A user’s privacy could be threatened if, for instance, hackers gain access to a device. The concern of privacy threats thwarts the development of trust in the technology and results in a perceived risk of privacy loss (Connolly & Bannister, 2007). As people generally care about their privacy, the risk of losing might lead to be a barrier to adoption.

As AR smart glasses automatically screen and process a user’s environment, the privacy of users and those around them can also be affected. This is very unique to AR, since most existing technologies only collect information about the user. In decision making, people often consider how other people perceive their behavior, so called “social norms”. Likewise, most people are generally interested in maintaining their social relationships and avoiding interpersonal conflicts. This could be negatively impacted if the people around them do not want a user to use AR. In the context of AR smart glasses, multiple news sources have reported various cases where Google Glass users were physically assaulted by non-users who feared that their privacy was being threatened. In addition, the term ‘glassholes’ became a prototypical term for insulting Google Glass users. Thus, the extent to which a consumer thinks that smart glasses threaten the privacy of other people, termed as “other people’s privacy” might play a role in determining user behavior.


Empirical Findings on Privacy and Augmented Reality

The topic of privacy concerns is not just one of the core publicly raised criticisms of Augmented Reality (Smart Glasses), but rather also has a long tradition in MIS and human-computer interaction, marketing, and related disciplines. Two quantitative studies (one of them is included in the Paper; Rauschnabel, He, and Ro (2019); the other one will be published elsewhere) did not confirm this link among ARSGs and thus replicate Rauschnabel and Ro (2016) and provide new momentum to the discussion on privacy (Smith et al., 2011; Acquisti 2004). However, so far no explanation for this counter-intuitive finding has been made in the context of Augmented Reality. Therefore, findings of a third study (qualitative, ~20 informants) indicate that while people are aware of these risks, it does not impact their behavior. Why? The findings indicate that

  • they feel a certain level of control over the device (e.g. turning it off in specific situations),
  • consumers don’t feel that their personal life is worth hiding,
  • many informants see the consequences as being very abstract and might be relevant a long time in the future (hyperbolic discounting!), and/or
  • many respondents showed a feeling of resignation, meaning that they accept living in a world in which privacy does not exist anymore

In addition, our published study extended the privacy research by introducing a novel perspective of privacy concerns: the degree to which using a technology (here. ARSGs) can threaten the privacy of other people. This risk is, as proposed, negatively associated with consumers’ reactions in both studies. In sum, this suggests that the surveyed people tend to incorporate other people’s privacy concerns more into their adoption decision making than their own threats to privacy. This is counter-intuitive, since one might think that people typically care more about themselves. So we conduced a qualitative study to understand these effects better.

Results of our qualitative research (see figure below) shows that the relevance of other people’s privacy is elevated because of…

  • ethical fears,
  • legal fears,
  • the potential of creating an artificial environment,
  • the negative normative reactions from other people,
  • the willingness to protect other people, especially loved ones.


Augmented Reality and the Privacy Paradox

Simplified speaking, the privacy paradox describes the observation that many people are aware of privacy risks and claim to care about it, but do not behave in that way. In the context of AR, the findings are similar. However, results indicate that people tend to care about other people’s privacy. This also indicates that people do not want to have their own privacy threatened by other people (although we did not study this). However, we need regulations on the use of AR in public.

For a review of AR papers, see also Chuah (2018). By the way: The findings from ARGSs differ from VR Glasses, as discussed in Herz & Rauschnabel (2019).

Augmented Reality Privacy


  • Acquisti, A., & Grossklags, J. (2005). Privacy and rationality in individual decision making. IEEE Security & Privacy, 3(1), 26-33.
  • Chuah, S. H. W. (2018). Why and who will adopt extended reality technology? Literature review, synthesis, and future research agenda. Literature Review, Synthesis, and Future Research Agenda (December 13, 2018). Working Paper, Research Gate.
  • Connolly, R., and Bannister, F. (2007) Consumer trust in Internet shopping in Ireland: towards the development of a more effective trust measurement instrument. Journal of Information Technology, 22, 102–118.
  • Herz, M., & Rauschnabel, P. A. (2019). Understanding the diffusion of virtual reality glasses: The role of media, fashion and technology. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 138, 228-242.
  • Rauschnabel, P. A., He, J., & Ro, Y. K. (2018). Antecedents to the adoption of augmented reality smart glasses: A closer look at privacy risks. Journal of Business Research, 92, 374-384.
  • Rauschnabel, P. A., & Ro, Y. K. (2016). Augmented reality smart glasses: An investigation of technology acceptance drivers. International Journal of Technology Marketing, 11(2), 123-148.
  • Smith, H.J., Dinev, T.& Xu, J (2011). Information privacy research: an interdisciplinary review.” MIS Quarterly, 35(4), 989-1016.

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