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Pokémon GO Security Concerns

When you suddenly have an extremely popular mobile game pop up, it is no surprise that it also gives rise to multiple concerns and even conspiracy theories. Yes, you have guessed it right. We are tackling Pokémon GO today. The hugely popular augmented-reality game that urges you to go out and catch ‘em all! It was released only last week, but even so, reports suggest that in the United States, the application has surpassed Twitter and Tinder as the most-downloaded app. There are many reasons behind the game’s popularity, but we are not going to discuss them here. Our main concern is the potential security issues that you may encounter as you play the game.

If you still feel foreign to this Pokémon craze and you have not noticed people walking around with their eyes solely on their phones, then here is a short break down for you: Pokémon GO is an interactive mobile game for Android and iOS users, created by Niantic (which partners with Google, the Pokémon Company, and Nintendo). The game leads you through your neighborhood as you try to catch, hatch, and evolve 250 Pokémon monsters. Since the game uses Google Maps and your camera, it makes it seem as though you really have these cute pocket monsters hiding right next to you. Not to mention, you can also participate in Pokémon battles, power up your Pokémon, collect experience points, and simply stay fit by walking over 6 miles to hatch that Pokémon egg.

From this, you can probably tell that there are a few permissions you need to consider before you install the game. Whenever you download and install a new app on your mobile device, you are given the list of permissions you need to agree to. You may also check them on Google Play before installing the app. Pokémon GO has five basic permission sections: Camera, Contacts, Location, Storage, and Other. With the access to your camera, the game can take pictures and videos. And if you want to see Bulbasaur on lazing around on your desk, you probably would want this function on. Although some players say that catching Pokémon without the camera is a lot easier. Either way, moving along.

Contacts. This is a rather odd permission because the application would be able to find other accounts on your device. It should be pointed out that you can still play the game even if you deny the app access to your contacts. It is not essential to the game itself. It is believed that Niantic may develop Pokémon GO further into a multi-player game, and that might be the reason the app already has the contacts permission on the list. However, before that happens, feel free to deny the game access to all the other Google accounts saved in your address book.

The main security concern regarding the Conctacts permission was related to the iPhone users because there was a glitch in the system, and Pokémon GO asked for full Google account access from iOS users. Full account access means not only your name and email, but also Google documents, Google drive, photos, and all the other data you have stored in your Google account. That, most certainly, would open a lot of opportunities for potential personal data leak, but Niantic says it has addressed the issue already.

Then, we reach another permission point: Location. To be honest, it is only natural that the game requires you to turn on your GPS function. It needs your exact location on the map, so that you can walk around and catch those Pokémon. On the other hand, if you believe that your exact location should not be recorded because of your occupation, perhaps you simply engage in this game someplace else. Can this information be used for spying? Technically, it can be used to monitor you, but that would require a hacker to hack into the app and access your PII (personally identifier information). However, seeing how Pokémon GO downloads a lot more information than it uploads, you can be sure that it does not leak your pictures or your exact location to anyone.

What about the third parties? The Terms of Use do mention that some of the collected information may be shared with third parties, mostly for marketing purposes and to improve your gaming experience. Not to mention, Nintendo has a history of being fiercely protective of the information of its underage gamers, so we can only expect this extend to Niantic, too. The most annoying thing that can come out it could probably be intentional product (or Pokémon) placement in particular locations. For example, do you frequent a certain coffee shop? If the corporation that owns it gets the information on your frequented locations, some of the Pokémon might be placed in that brand’s stores on purpose. However, that is a rather common business practice that is widely acceptable.

After that, Pokémon GO asks for Storage, and that is understandable because the game has to download and store a lot of data to provide you with interactive gaming experience. Also, it needs full network access too because the information on your location is constantly updated, just as the game itself. Yet, when you take a look at these concerns, you realize most of the other popular games come with the same liabilities, too.

A word of advice on third parties, though. There are quite a few fake Pokémon GO versions floating around out there. Thus, when you download the game, you must be sure you get the official version that has been released for your country. Although quite a few users download the game via VPN when it is not available in their locations, that is not recommended because you might encounter particular security concerns that, otherwise, would not be relevant if you had the official version of the gaming app.

In fact, the biggest concern about Pokémon GO is that users may literally run into trouble, as they walk around too engrossed in the game. Thus, you should definitely heed the notification you see when you load the game and be aware of your surroundings all the time. You have to be responsible for your safety or the safety of your authorized child. Thus, if you take all the permissions into account and accept them after giving them some thought, you can enjoy the game as much as you want.

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