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Children’s safety added to Pokemon GO concerns

July 14th 2016

Leading children's charity NSPCC has demanded that the makers of Pokemon GO introduce features to protect children prior to releasing the game in the United Kingdom. Already having become a global sensation in the few days since it launched - including markets where it has not even been released - the game has attracted much criticism around the poor online and physical safety of players. 

NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless, told Sky News that the game "raises fundamental child safety concerns. Given Pokemon's already massive popularity with children, the NSPCC is concerned that basic safety standards appear to have been overlooked." The organisation's warning centres around the possibility that predators could lure unsuspecting children to 'beacon' locations. 

Get Safe Online's top line advice is:

- If you are a player, or are thinking of downloading, make sure you are aware of how your data may be used and shared

- Be aware of your surroundings such as traffic, pedestrians, obstacles and private property when playing

- If you are a parent or have safeguarding responsibility for children, talk to them about the dangers of being lured to unknown locations

On the verge of overtaking Twitter for daily active users on Android, Pokémon GO has become a global sensation, with the app being downloaded by millions and increasing Nintendo’s market value by over $9 billion. It uses your phone’s clock and GPS to detect where you are in the game and make Pokémon appear around you on your screen so you can find and catch them. Move around, and more types of Pokémon will appear according to the time and your location. A free app on Android and iOS, it is easy to download and play. The game is attracting not only seasoned gamers but a whole new generation of fans.

However, there are a number or risks, which we have summarised for you below. These apply to both adults and children – whether or not they are playing the game with their parents’ permission.

- In common with most apps that use your smartphone GPS, Pokémon GO tracks you as you go: where and when you go, your route there, how long you stayed, and who else was playing in the same location. This data is kept by Niantic, the game developer.

- The game’s privacy policy states that Niantic can collect data including your username, location, email address, IP address and the previous web page you were using.

- If you use your Google account to login on an Apple device, it had access to your entire Google account, unless you revoked this option. It could share this information with other companies (including ‘third parties’). Niantic claims that this problem has now been fixed.

- Although the game is free to download, attractive in-app purchases (such as Poké Balls) can be made as you progress. As with all games with in-app purchases, care needs to be taken that your enthusiasm does not run away with you when either making the purchases themselves, or buying virtual currency with real money.

Our main concerns are around data privacy – and use beyond that which you think you are agreeing to. Your information could be shared with third parties of the developer’s choosing. It so happens that Google’s parent company is a major investor in Niantic. The fact that many large corporations have been the subject of high profile hacks recently, generates major concerns.

Not just online dangers

Other hazards with Pokémon GO centre on ‘real world’ dangers, with players seeking Pokémon with no regard to the law or their personal safety.

Crossing roads becomes a real danger when looking for Pokémon, concentrating on your device rather than the approaching traffic. Colliding with other people and stationary objects like lamp posts is also a potential problem. And, of course, playing Pokémon GO whilst driving is strictly prohibited, attracting serious penalties in common with using any other mobile device. A number of cases have already been reported in the US.

Some law enforcement agencies in the US have reported an increase in trespassing on private property, businesses, government buildings, churches and other premises.

In St. Louis, four teenagers were accused in multiple armed robberies in which they allegedly used the app to target their victims.

At Get Safe Online, we love the internet and the way it opens the door to so much entertainment, for so many. But it is our remit to make sure that users stay protected in everything you do. 


By Get Safe Online