Amidst one of the most widespread and intense outbreaks of violence in the US, as civilians are being murdered by aggressive police, and police are gunned down by angry civilians, as protests fill the streets, and our criminal presidential candidates clamor to make promises about gun control and police training and peaceful protest, something happened that most people passed off as a simple entertainment. It was unexpected. One moment it was chaos as usual, the next moment a strange (and potentially dangerous) phenomena was sweeping across the world like wildfire.
I am talking about Pokémon Go, of course. The augmented reality game that was released as an app on July, 6th 2016 exploded into popular culture – becoming a hit amongst every demographic, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and the haves and the have-nots. Parks are now filled with people “hunting” Pokémon, people wandering down streets and through dark alleys with their faces glued to their phones, hoping to find and catch the creatures they’re after. This has already created some problems, and there is little doubt that it will cause at least a few more…
The dangers that augmented reality games present are multi-layered – the first, most obvious and immediate danger that the game presents, is crime. Police say that they have never, with any other game, seen an increase in crime like that they’ve seen with the release of Pokémon Go. Not with Call of Duty, or Halo, or Grand Theft Auto or any other of the innumerous violent shoot-em-up games that have come out over the years. Why is that? Because Pokémon Go players are the victims not the perpetrators. The game requires a certain level of focus on your phone, which means that a lot of players wander into dangerous places or hostile situations without even realizing it. In some instances, criminals have used the game to lure players into isolated locations in order to mug or assault them, as was the case in Missouri, where a criminal used a geolocator to “anticipate the location and level of seclusion of unwitting victims”.
Let’s take that idea a step further, though. If criminals have, in only 12 days since the game was released, already concocted a way to use the app to prey on Poke-fanatics like spiders in webs, how long before the government or corporate interests start using Pokémon Go – and other augmented reality games like it – for their own dark objectives?
Pokémon Go tracks anyone using it. Inherently, that is part of the game. It uses functions that are already built into the phone like location tracking and cameras to encourage players to go outside and walk around, hike, stroll, jog, or bike from one Poke-Stop to the next. The developers created the game with the good intention of getting kids outside and exercising, visiting public landmarks. But consider the other potential uses:
From a businessman’s perspective, gamers could be drawn like fish to bait into malls, stores, shopping centers, festivals, restaurants, or events. Personal information could be sold to agencies interested in knowing what shops local Poke-Hunters frequent, which areas they relax at or how much time they have to play games to target internet advertisements.
And the reasons why the government might want access to the information tracked by Pokémon Go, are endless. Simply, they might want to keep tabs on people – track who’s where, when, why and what they are doing. But they could also use the app for more nefarious purposes – like to lure people away from, or towards certain locations (or certain incidents). The app could be used to control how large or small crowds are in certain areas, which way they move, which way they look…
It could also be the case that Pokémon Go is a simple entertainment app, without any hidden motives fueling it. But in a world where businesses and government agencies can watch and follow our every move, where consumer information is a commodity, and where surveillance is constantly on the rise, it seems unwise to assume anything is harmless. Because even something as innocuous and innocent as a Pokémon gaming app, could be like medication stuffed inside a treat that one slips a dog. A Trojan horse, so to speak.
Sources: http://www.people.com/article/pokemon-go-crime-stories-safety-tips, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jul/10/pokemon-go-armed-robbers-dead-body, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/technology/pokemon-go-brings-augmented-reality-to-a-mass-audience.html