Pokemon GO is a continuation of a worrying trend of privacy in gaming

Pokemon Go

Pokemon as a franchise is exceedingly popular to put it very lightly. The vast reach of the franchise through multiple generations has allowed the recent release of the companion AR [Augmented Reality] smartphone application Pokemon Go to become one of the most popular in history, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But all this hype isn’t without its problems, and its positives.

Multiple reports of injuries, crimes, and fortunately enough, the stoppage of crimes by users of the app have already circulated in the recent weeks. Most importantly, there are growing concerns of privacy and information security when it comes to the application.

In order to play, the app needs to know your location through your device’s GPS and access the camera.

“Pokémon Go is a huge security risk,” warned Adam Reeve in a post on the blog of RedOwl, the cyber security company where he is principal architect.

The reality was that before a recent fix, it was possible for the developer, or anyone with access to the developer’s data, to siphon off anything linked to a users Google account because of Pokemon Gos app permissions. But the insanity doesn’t end there.

According to The Consumerist, up to very recently, Pokemon Go players signing the ToS have given up their right to file any sort of lawsuit against Niantic Labs for any reason. The clause strips away a user’s right to file an individual lawsuit or to join a class action lawsuit under any circumstance. There is, however, good news in a way in that players can opt out of the prohibition by writing directly to the company.

The Go terms do include an opt-out provision for people who don’t want to give up their rights. However, you must opt out within 30 days of first agreeing to the Terms of Service.

Luckily, many Pokémon Go users have only downloaded and activated the app in the last week, meaning they are still within that timeframe.

To Opt Out: Send an email ASAP (before the 30 days have passed) to [email protected] with “Arbitration Opt-out Notice” in the subject line and a clear declaration that you are opting out of the arbitration clause in the Pokémon Go terms of service.

With a ton of security of privacy issues surrounding internet-connected devices and social media already being exploited, do we really need more problems for what is essentially an AR Pokemon game. I certainly don’t want even more reasons to distrust others with my data or legal rights. I have not played and will not play Pokemon Go.

In a world where companies and individuals constantly sell and abuse user data and trust for personal gain, Pokemon Go is a minefield waiting for every hapless user to take one wrong step. And for those who are not doubt formulating the counter-argument of: “But users agreed to the terms and conditions.”

Niantic’s privacy policy is a 20-page document that no kid in reality, virtual or otherwise, is likely to read. Within the policy, Niantic describes how it may share user’s information with third parties who “may not have agreed to abide by the terms of this Privacy Policy.”

Those third parties could be unspecified  “private parties,” according to the terms of service.

They might sell or transfer personally identifiable information about users in the event of a “merger, sale of assets, acquisition, dissolution, reorganization, bankruptcy, change of control or other similar event.” These kinds of issues don’t change the reality of privacy in the digital age. What we believe is private is often wildly different from the information that is freely available about us out in the world. But is that really a reason to justify taking another risk?

There are positives though. While Pokemon Go can do wonders for the social interaction and exploration habits of it’s users, I would argue that the unnecessary risks inherent to the issue make other alternatives more viable. So go out and explore your neighborhoods and cities for new adventure, but leave the Pokemon behind.


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ISKMogul is a growing video game publication that got its start covering EVE Online, and has since expanded to cover a large number of topics and niches within the purview of gaming.