July 13th 2016
It has very quickly become clear that the latest online game craze sweeping the regions of the globe where it has been released, is accompanied by a number of security and safety risks. If you are a player, or are thinking of downloading, our key advice is to make sure you are aware of how your data may be used and shared, and to be aware of your surroundings such as traffic, pedestrians, obstacles and private property when playing.
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 $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.
– If you use your Google account to login on an Apple device, it has access to your entire Google account, unless you revoke this option. It can share this information with other companies (including ‘third parties’).
– 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.