Pokémon GO Privacy Concerns

I have never played Pokémon GO. I’d have to be very careful if I did. We live in a rural area with barbed wire fences, wild animals, prairie dog holes, and numerous other hazards. It just doesn’t seem like a safe idea.

But I was also worried about the privacy concerns. Could the game track me? Could a bad guy lure others to a secluded spot to rob or assault the victim? Could marketers direct me to a store or restaurant?

pokemon-1574648_640Could the Game Track Me?

The game’s privacy policy seem to indicate that they cannot sell any info about your play, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that they can or might. And that’s a good thing!

However, your phone has built-in tracking. Unless you turn it off, it is already tracking you. On my phone I have location services turned off, but “Google Location History” remains on.  I wanted to view the history, so I went to www.google.com/maps/timeline. It says only I can see that information, and I have no reason to doubt it. But if the info is available, it might be somehow accessed by hackers. The location information on the google map was not very detailed, and they got at least one trip’s dates wrong. To be fair, that may be because I often have Location Services turned off to save battery life. Of course, the location info has to be on to use the app.

Could a Bad Guy Use the Game to Their Advantage?

I don’t know. I do know one can place lures at PokeStops. PokeStops cannot currently be created — or even officially suggested — by users. There has been a case in Missouri, where bad actors allegedly used the game to lure victims into a robbery. If potential attackers were to find a reasonably isolated nearby player, the potential for danger exists.

Could Marketers Direct Me to a Store or Restaurant?

Not yet, but they will likely be able to do so in the near future. The game may soon feature “sponsored locations” to encourage players to play at or near businesses. Hopefully, the cost and vetting of this feature will be sufficient to prevent criminals from sponsoring locations to attract players to danger.

As I was considering these reasons not to play the game, I read an article from The Sovereign Investor. The article mentions some of the points I addressed above and goes into more detail about how the game (and potentially the owners of sponsored locations) can monetize the app’s players. I suggest you read the article if you are concerned about privacy.

Many of you are probably thinking that this is a personal privacy issue and that businesses are immune. I don’t think that’s correct. I can imagine employees playing an “innocent” game of Pokémon GO at lunch or after work. I see them being tracked (followed). I can also imagine a scenario where a carjacker or other thief watches an employee exit her vehicle and begin hunting Pokémon. That may help the thief to believe she’ll be out of her car for enough time to steal it or its contents.

I’m definitely not suggesting people not use the app, nor am I saying that app itself does anything inherently bad. What I am suggesting is that everyone should be aware of the implications of playing. I also suggest that companies that haven’t, inform employees of the potential dangers to them and to the company.

Do you hunt Pokémon? Are you concerned about Pokémon GO and privacy? Let us know in the comments below.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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