Pokémon GO has become a worldwide phenomenon almost overnight.
Vox reports that “Pokémon Go has been downloaded around 7.5 million times,” and that the number of “daily active users” may soon outnumber users on Twitter.
There is no question that the game is incredibly fun. Some users are already admitting that they are addicted to the hunt. Video game addiction may sound more funny than something to worry about, but Kotaku reports that it is a serious problem that can ruin a person’s life.
However, video game addition is not limited to Pokémon GO. World of Warcraft, Everquest, and many other video games have had their share of addicts. What is scary with Pokémon GO are the dangers that are unique to the game. Serious concerns are beginning to surface in the short time that the game has been out including, privacy, public safety, and child safety concerns.
In an online world there is a certain amount of privacy that people have willingly relinquished. If you have ever noticed an ad on Facebook that just happens to be the exact product you were looking at on Amazon, then you should be familiar with this small amount of privacy that you gave up when agreeing to Facebook’s Terms and Condition. Many websites and online services collect information on visitors and users and it has become a norm that is mostly ignored.
While most games, websites, and online services collect relatively benign data about users, some collect more information than one may wish. Pokémon GO is one of them.
Shortly after release, Game Informer reported that upon installation, the game granted itself full access to users’ Google accounts without notification. It was a problem that was easily fixed by users and has since been addressed by both Niantic (creators of the game) and Google.
However, that is not the end to the privacy concerns. The game still has access to a lot of information on users. Location, live camera data, and other information are all accessible by the game. Furthermore, a lot of data is logged and recorded while playing the game.
Anyone with access to the phone can pull up a map showing when and where you have been while playing the game. This may not seem like a big deal, but Evan Scribner told the New York Post that it ruined his love life when his girlfriend discovered that he had been at his ex-girlfriend’s house. Granted, cheating spouses perhaps deserve what they get, but considering that all locations where Pokémon are found are recorded, users might want to seriously consider who they share their phone with or where they play the game.
Pokémon GO has also raised concerns about public safety. In Auburn, New York, a man hit a tree while playing the game and driving. According to the Auburn Citizen, the man only suffered minor injuries, but his car was totaled. What if the tree had been a person?
A video on YouTube posted by CNET comically points out “What you look like playing Pokémon GO.” The video was staged by CNET employees, but alludes to some possibly serious concerns when players are not paying attention to their surroundings while chasing the elusive Pokémon.
Walking into traffic, tumbling down stairs, and walking into areas that would normally be avoided are real issues with potentially serious consequences.
Arguably the scariest thing about Pokémon GO are concerns over child safety. While it is great that, for once, a video game has kids running around outside getting some fresh air and exercise, it is disturbing to think that the game could lead them into perilous situations.
One anecdote that has been making the rounds on Facebook is one where two young children came knocking on a stranger’s door asking if they could go in his backyard to catch a Pokémon. This is a very frightening thought for those with children. Fortunately, the story had a happy and humorous ending. The stranger was apparently also a player, so he slammed the door on the kids and captured the Pokémon himself. However, it is easy to see the story ending very differently. It should be noted that this incident may not have actually happened, but children chasing virtual monsters in Pokémon GO could find them encountering real monsters in the places that they are led.
The Auburn Police Department has some good advice for Pokémon hunters:
- Do not trespass onto private property to catch Pokémon
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Use caution when sharing locations — strangers can see your location information
- Travel in groups in pubic, in well-lit areas
And most importantly, do not play the game while driving a car or operating any other vehicle that requires your undivided attention.
Pokémon GO does not have to be scary as long as users exercise some common sense while playing.
[Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images]