Guiding the Augmented Reality Revolution: New Policy Recommendations

Published: 23 May 2024

A new policy report on augmented and mixed reality technology launched today from the UofG academics says left unchecked this powerful technology raises profound ethical risks and challenges.

Photo of five people standing in an atrium of a modern building. Left to right: Professor Ben Colburn; Dr Derk Brown; Professor Fiona Macpherson; Professor Neil McDonnell and Calum Hodgson photographed in the University of Glasgow ’ s Advanced Research Centre (ARC). Photo credit: Martin Shields

Augmented and mixed reality (AR/MR) technology promises to revolutionise how we perceive and interact with the world around us.

By overlaying digital content onto our view of the physical environment, AR/MR will enable extraordinary new experiences - from visualising new furniture in our homes before buying to exploring virtual museums filled with 3D artifacts and artworks.

But this powerful technology also raises profound ethical risks and challenges around privacy, information accuracy, identity, accessibility, individual autonomy, and overall well-being.

Without proactive effort to shape AR/MR's development, we risk experiencing a future filled with covert surveillance, misinformation bubbles, identity manipulation, and erosion of user autonomy.

That's the picture painted by a new policy report launched today (Thursday 23 May 2024) from the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience.

The Policy and Practice Recommendations for Augmented and Mixed Reality report provides incisive analysis and concrete guidance for developers, industry, policymakers and researchers striving to maximise AR/MR's societal benefits while mitigating its dangers.

The report summary says: “Augmented and mixed reality is a fast-moving domain. The use of these technologies is likely to be increasingly widespread in coming years. The project has identified core opportunities and central areas of risk for ethical deployment of these technologies, including privacy, information, identity, accessibility, autonomy, and well-being. We have also concluded that the nature, pace and drivers of technological development mean that we can’t rely on either market forces or a process of ‘natural evolution’ to maximise opportunities and minimise risks. So, active intervention is needed to shape the technological trajectory and its effect in these domains.”

The report's lead investigator, Professor Fiona Macpherson said over 50 experts across academia, industry and public policy inputted into the report.

Professor Macpherson, who is a philosopher based at the University’s School of Humanities | Sgoil nan Daonnachdan, launching the report said: “We are delighted to launch our policy and practice recommendations for augmented and reality. Augmented reality and mixed reality are fast-moving domains. The use of these technologies will be increasingly widespread in coming years. Our project has identified core opportunities, and areas of risk, to enable ethical deployment of these technologies. Our policy report makes specific recommendations for developers, industry, policymakers and research bodies, to guide early intervention and shape the technological trajectory in a way that upholds the key values of privacy, accessibility, autonomy and well-being.”

Professor Ben Colburn, co-investigator and lead author of the report, said it contains over 20 specific recommendations aimed at getting key stakeholders - developers, industry, policymakers, researchers – to travel in a positive direction for AR/MR's development from the outset.

Professor Colburn, a political philosopher at the University’s School of Humanities | Sgoil nan Daonnachdan, added: “We recommend design standards which mark out virtual from real objects, and control for users and third parties over the gathering and use of personal data and their digital identities.

“We also show that education is central to AR's positive individual, social and economic potential: information about benefits and risks should be integrated into critical thinking curricula in schools, and into a campaign of digital literacy for adults, focusing on the novel privacy risks involved in familiar activities.”

The report lays out six central risk domains for AR/MR - privacy, information accuracy, identity representation, accessibility, autonomy, and well-being. It then provides tailored recommendations for developers, industry, policymakers and researchers to address each domain:


  • Ensure clear user information about data captured by AR/MR devices, straightforward access to personal data, and control over digital identity/profiles that influence virtual content delivery.
  • Prioritise new mechanisms like wearable opt-out tags to allow realistic non-participation in AR/MR data capture.
  • Educate the public, starting in childhood and continuing for adults, on digital literacy especially around about the privacy implications of AR/MR data gathering in otherwise familiar activities.

Information Accuracy

  • Design AR/MR interfaces to make users aware when virtual content is being displayed and its source/curation.
  • Give users access to the data profiles used to customise their virtual content.
  • Integrate AR/MR literacy into critical thinking curricula and adult digital literacy campaigns.


  • Allow users to block unwanted identity augmentations from others' headsets.
  • Update laws around defamation and image rights for the AR/MR age.
  • Educate about the risks of identity manipulation.
  • Develop archiving standards to preserve key AR/MR experiences for posterity.


  • Prioritise universal design principles and low cost options to maximise accessibility.
  • Research novel forms of support and accessibility aids through AR/MR devices for users with visual impairment or other senses.
  • Model the environmental impacts of transitioning to an AR/MR-based technological ecosystem which maximise environmental gains from resource use.


  • Implement AR/MR firmware controls to make augmented content clearly visible by default, allowing voluntary opt-outs by users but not developers.
  • Prioritise public education around the autonomy risks of AR/MR representational manipulation and covert influence.


  • Develop standards balancing seamless virtual/real integration with clear reality/virtual distinctions.
  • Urgently research the psychological and behavioural impacts of AR/MR technology, on users. 

Augmented Reality: Ethics, Perception, Metaphysics

Augmented Reality: Ethics, Perception, Metaphysics, was a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Network Project, conducted at the University of Glasgow's Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience between November 2021 and November 2023.

Investigators: Professor Fiona Macpherson (PI), Professor Ben Colburn (co-I), Dr Derek Brown (co-I), and Professor Neil McDonnell (co-I).

Research Assistants: Laura Fearnley and Calum Hodgson.




First published: 23 May 2024