OverLay AR/Social Media Mashup App Runs Into Privacy Storm

OverLay hopes to bring people together by fusing social and mobile
OverLay hopes to bring people together by fusing social and mobile

Privacy campaigners have reacted with dismay to the proposed launch of a new Augmented Reality app that allows its users to access another person’s social media profile simply by pointing their phone at that person.

The app, OverLay, is believed to be slated for launch in June, but the Lithuanian company behind it is refusing to comment on its plans. In a statement issued to Mobile Marketing, it said simply that it was working on an app that would bring people together in a new and innovative way.

The basic premise behind OverLay – holding up your camera to an object to retrieve more information about it – is not new. Indeed, it’s the raison d’etre of many AR offerings. What’s unique about OverLay is that the object in question is not an object, but a human being. With the app fired up, the user simply points the phone at the person they are interested in, and can then see their social media profiles and most recent Tweets or posts on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels overlaid (hence the name) on the phone’s screen. The company spokesman told Mobile Marketing he was hoping to see the term adopted – “Do you mind if I OverLay you?” as a verb in the same way as “Googled”.

It’s not clear how the app developer is tapping into the social media feed. It seems highly unlikely that Facebook, Twitter or any other social media outlet would release this information to a third party, but the company says it has done everything by the book.

While the app may prove popular with youngsters in nightclubs, not everyone is happy about the idea. Indeed, two separate commentators have been in touch with Mobile Marketing to voice their disapproval. First off, April Curtis from the Association for Personal Privacy (APP) emailed to say she would be raising a legal challenge. Next, we had a phone call from Peter Rivate from the Campaign Against Social Media Profligacy, who told us:

“This is the last thing the world needs. People already inadvertently reveal far too much about themselves on social media channels as it is. This app has the potential to make that information available to anyone who happens to find themselves in the same room as them. I’m tempted to start a campaign against it on Facebook, but I don’t have an account.”