Reality Augmented: Investigations into Surveillance Capitalism

Co-developed with Michelle Lai

Pokemon Go has instigated a rare, large scale shift in human mobility patterns that re-emphasizes certain biases in geography, drawing players towards business districts, urban places with relatively few minorities, as well as advantaging players who come from these areas. This reinforces a narrative of control, where spaces reinforce powers held by certain stakeholders. This geography profile also tends to be heavily surveilled through CCTV, and in Singapore, facial recognition and private security officer patrols – a move that targets minorities and migrant workers above anyone else.

These new forms of control have not supplanted the old forms of surveillance, but have made them more refined, more flexible, cheaper, and as a result, more comprehensive. Niantic’s ability to use PokeStops to incentivize transitory migrations within cities shows an increasing economic privatization of once public spaces, with corporations like McDonalds paying up to $900,000 per day for sponsored PokeStops. Just as Google mines our data to sell ads for products we’re socially engineered to want, Pokemon Go mines player movements to silently herd them into businesses where they’re expected to buy something in exchange for the right to be there. This is the physical manifestation of surveillance capitalism.

On the other hand, protestors in Hong Kong are turning to Pokemon Go to spread messages. Location based augmented reality gaming could become a tool for predicting trends in urban change and thus migrations of different groups of people.

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