Pokemon GO, the joint venture augmented reality game from Niantic Labs (a former subsidiary of Google) and Nintendo, launched in the United States earlier today. The highly anticipated game rose almost instantly to become the No. 1 downloaded free app and No. 1 grossing app (through in-app purchases) out there.
Unfortunately, Pokemon GO is being rolled out by Niantic very slowly, and still hasn’t come to Canada. And if there’s one thing guaranteed to upset Canadian geeks, it’s not having access to something that’s already been released in America.
Naturally, many prospective Canadian Pokemon GO players went looking for an alternative, and in fact, one of Canada’s biggest smartphone news outlets, MobileSyrup, had a piece up on how to download and install Pokemon GO without using the app store within minutes, a process called sideloading.
Of course, the process is not without its risks. As iDigitalTimes notes, a lot of these downloads are probably infested with malware; whatever you think of Google Play and the Apple Store, they are the single strongest defense against mobile malware, and hackers delight in releases like these which give them an opportunity to target mobile users indiscriminately.
Update: Yibada is now reporting the discovery of the Droidjack or SandroRAT remote access tool (in other words, a nasty virus) in at least one Pokemon GO APK offered up for download. In addition, some unscrupulous sites have been spotted reporting the game as having been officially released, and then directing readers to download a potentially-infected file. Stay aware.
Moreover, according to ComicBook, there are already reports of Canadian Pokemon GO players having their accounts banned from the game.
One fact that many Pokemon GO players are unaware of is that Niantic Labs first gained notoriety through their other augmented reality game, Ingress. In fact, it’s been noted by many Ingress players who are also playing Pokemon GO that the games seem to use the same underlying map: Pokemon GO spawn areas match up exclusively to Ingress portal locations. It seems that Niantic finally found a solid way to leverage all of that collected Ingress data. That being said, this implies that some of the underlying infrastructure of the game is the same as well, and one of the near-guaranteed ways to get your Ingress account banned, aside from GPS spoofing (tricking the phone into thinking you’re somewhere that you’re not), is to sideload an Ingress upgrade.
And while these reports are still unsubstantiated, Niantic is (as the Inquisitr has reported elsewhere) scrambling to deal with server stability issues and has their hands full – much like an unexploded bomb, the fact that it possibly hasn’t happened yet is no guarantee of safety. Caveat emptor.
Without getting too bogged down in the technical details, Ingress uses several different tools to send data back to Niantic and crack down on cheaters — and they’re likely incorporated into Pokemon GO as well. Most importantly for Pokemon GO users, each APK (application installer) has a unique identifier that is different when you install the application through an official app store (Google Play or the Apple Store.) If that identifier is different, it’s a simple matter to flag a player’s account. Naturally, if you’re on iOS, you also need a jailbroken device to sideload an app.
iDigitalTimes also notes that if one should change their app store to another country to get an official version of the app, they will lose all of their progress in Pokemon GO once an official version does release.
Even if a pre-release Pokemon GO player does manage to dodge the malware and get a legitimate version of the Pokemon GO app that doesn’t get flagged, well, they’re still playing a GPS-based game in an entire country that it doesn’t technically exist in yet, and Ingress constantly phones home with player data on several different levels, including multiple anti-cheating tools, many of which are location-based. The most common cheat in Ingress is location-spoofing, and Niantic knows how to watch out for it.
In short: Canadians, and others outside of the United States? We know it’s incredibly frustrating. But you’re better off waiting until Pokemon GO officially releases in your country.
The Pokemon you save may be your own.
Update no. 2: As reported by the Inquisitr, Niantic has confirmed that the Canadian release has been officially delayed.
[Image via Niantic Labs/Nintendo]