Pokemon don’t Go there: Ownership of virtual space

The Pokemon Go app has popularised augmented reality, but do businesses need to watch out for issues of ownership when utilising virtual space?


Humans have been bickering over the land and sea since the dawn of time, and with the invention of the aeroplane, the debate got even more complicated. Can anyone own the air above the land, and if so, who?

The rise of augmented reality applications such as Pokemon Go, blending the real physical environment with digital elements, has added a new facet to the battle for ownership – virtual space. While augmented reality has a wide range of useful applications for businesses and people in app developer roles, it’s important to be aware of the issues surrounding virtual reality and any new regulations that are formed to govern it.

The augmented reality takeover

Augmented reality technology has been gaining prevalence in the business world in recent years, as more and more companies explore its many capabilities. It is the viral sensation of Pokemon Go, released in July 2016, that has launched augmented reality into the front-lines of innovation, with it’s wild popularity opening doors for new uses.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Tech Trends report, organisations could harness augmented reality in a number of interesting ways, such as to view sales data and inventory, to enhance the customer experience, and for the purposes of marketing.

However, along with new possibilities comes a significant challenge with the technology – can virtual space be owned, and what are the limitations of using it?

Where do the boundaries lie?

The Pokemon Go app, which was created by software development company Niantic, involves using the camera and location services of mobile devices to allow players to capture, train and battle digital Pokemon. It uses real places as “gyms” where players physically go to and train their virtual friends. This is where augmented reality differs from virtual reality, and where the problem lies – it uses actual locations instead of entirely digital ones, and is thus subject to issues of ownership.

For instance, GamesRadar recently reported that one man from Massachusetts woke up to find that his house was listed as a gym in the game, and there were strangers lingering outside his driveway making use of it. Mashable Australia discussed a similar dilemma, with companies using augmented reality space to advertise their products. This could become problematic if for example, they were transgressing on a competitors’ space. So where are the boundaries?

There are no definite answers yet as the quandary continues to be debated in cyberspace. The best approach for professionals in software developer roles is to keep in mind the privacy and property of others when they are exploring new uses for augmented reality in their business.