Pokémon Go is a new augmented reality (AR) game that allows players to wander the world catching tiny cartoon creatures called pokémon. The game uses your smartphone camera to show the real world around you, and superimposes the pokémon on your real world landscape. Released at the beginning of July, it's already been wildly successful. The game, co-developed by Niantic, The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo has already and caused Nintendo's stock to surge. Niantic is known for its previous augmented reality games and apps, most notably Ingress and Google Field Trip.
Beyond the fun of amassing a digital pokémon collection, the cool part of the game is its guiding players to monuments and noteworthy places in their neighborhoods, which serve as "pokéstops" that get players points. The downside of the game is that players need to be pretty glued to their smartphone out in the world in order to play successfully.
In its first week, it's proved wildly popular and is already the most downloaded app in the Android and iTunes app stores. Along with its success have come some problems and security issues. This is where we'll keep track of them.
A dead body was found while playing
Probably the first big, bad story to emerge about the game was the news that it led 19-year-old Shayla Wiggins to a dead body by a river in a Riverton, Wyoming. Wiggins told KCWY that she went to the river in search of water pokémon, and instead found the body of an unidentified man, whose death police say is probably accidental.
Wiggins also said this will not dissuade her from her Pokémon quest, telling KCWY “Yeah, I might go get a water pokemon. I’m going to try."
Some peoples' homes are Pokéspots
One of the core parts of the game are Pokéspots, landmarks like historical buildings and murals where players can collect items they need to catch and battle with pokémon. The problem is, occasionally these are not what they seem. For instance, Boon Sheridan, a designer, lives in what was once a church…
Sheridan quickly realized that a company arbitrarily deciding to make your home a hotspot on a digital map could cause some problems for him.
As with any AR/GPS based game, Go will probably be a pain in the ass to someone unlucky enough to have their home turned into an [insert game element of your choice here]. The lengthy Go terms of service advise people not to violate laws "including but not limited to the laws of trespass," but who reads terms of service? Regardless, be considerate when you're playing.
People have used the game to rob others
What better way to make use of a game that's supposed to bring people together (sort of) than to bring people together…for crime. At 2 a.m. Monday morning in O'Fallon Missouri, police got word of a robbery. Here's how The Guardian describes it:
Officers responded to a robbery report that led them to four people, all local residents aged 16 to 18, in a black BMW in a CVS parking lot. The occupants tried to discard a handgun out of the car when an officer approached, said Sgt Bill Stringer. The officer then identified the four people as suspects of similar armed robberies described in St Louis and St Charles counties.
How was Pokémon involved? Well, you can add a "lure" to Pokéspots that makes it more likely that pokémon will appear near them. Apparently, the police suspect these resourceful teens had placed a lure on a secluded Pokéspot in order to get players to approach, before robbing them.
Okay, this one isn't necessarily bad per se, but it's generated a lot of complaints, sarcastic and otherwise. On Friday, with Go already getting people excited, Gizmodo's Matt Novak realized how many of those excited players were also complaining about how sore their legs were. Please wear comfortable shoes if you're gonna wander around catching Pokémon. Also, maybe stretch first if your legs have been atrophying at a desk for several months.
The game has reportedly landed one person in the hospital. A redditor with the username Amalthea- reported they'd broken a foot while playing:
Not even 30 minutes after the release last night, I slipped and fell down a ditch. Fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in my foot, 6-8 weeks for recovery. I told all the doctors I was walking my dog lol… Watch where you're going, folks!
The Associated Press has also reported multiple injuries, including a 21-year-old who fell off his skateboard looking for pokémon. Please look up from your phone's y'all! As the game warns when you sign up, "stay aware of your surroundings."
The game is really easy to trick.
Motherboard reported on Friday that players had already started trying to spoof the game, which runs on GPS, in order to make it think they were elsewhere. By doing so, of course they can catch more and different pokémon. So if you see someone with some incredibly varied pokémon it's possible they've been very diligently traveling, or they may be using a hacker's cheat code.
Fake viral Pokémon Go news
As GQ.com deputy editor Kevin Nguyen points out there are a lot of bullshit-sounding viral stories about Pokémon Go floating around. One of the reasons for that is a site called Cartel Press, which traffics in fake news.
The site, which was registered on April 16, also offers "Trending Celebrity Gossip," but at the moment its awash in fake stories about Pokémon Go related accidents and crimes. Don't believe everything you read.
A hacked version of the game compromised players' phones
While Go was released last week in the U.S., players around the world were impatient to play, and there's always someone willing and able to take advantage of impatience. In this case, someone uploaded an Android version of the app modified with a tool called DroidJack. Proofpoint, a data-security firm, did a little research and figured out that the fake app looked otherwise identical to the real Pokémon Go, but also contained DroidJack, which lets the hacker take control of the phone. Another fun side-effect of staggered release dates.
The game might have total access to your Google account
When you open up Pokémon go you're prompted to sign in with either a Google account or a Pokémon Trainer Club account. It's been very difficult to use the latter, since the site wasn't prepared for the influx of people trying to set up accounts. So, a lot of people have been using their Google accounts.
However, as security researcher Adam Reeve noticed, doing so gives Niantic full access to your account. [Update: Reeve has backtracked a chunk of his blog post to Gizmodo's William Turton, I'm going to leave the quote below intact, but a caveat emptor applies. You should still probably be careful about granting access, though.] What does that mean? Reeve explains:
Let me be clear - Pokemon Go and Niantic can now:
- Read all your email
- Send email as you
- Access all your Google drive documents (including deleting them)
- Look at your search history and your Maps navigation history
- Access any private photos you may store in Google Photos
- And a whole lot more
What’s more, given the use of email as an authentication mechanism (think “Forgot password” links) they now have a pretty good chance of gaining access to your accounts on other sites too.
As Reeve also points out, this is probably largely just carelessness on Niantic's part, but it's still super alarming. Unless you're very committed to that Pidgeot you leveled up, it might be best to revoke access to the account, which can be done on your security permissions page, until Niantic fixes this.
July 12: A man was stabbed playing the game
In a weirdly chipper article, KPTV reports that 21-year-old Michael Baker from Forest Grove, Oregon (outside Portland) was stabbed while playing Pokémon Go.
Apparently Baker was wandering around looking for Pokémon early on Monday morning when "when he saw another man, possibly playing the same game."
Reader, the other man was not playing the same game.
"I saw him go by and asked if he was playing Pokémon Go. He was like 'what?' I guess he wanted to battle because he came up at me with a knife," Baker joked to KPTV.
Despite the fact he eventually required eight stitches, Baker didn't immediately go the hospital, "because he still wanted to hunt for Pokémon and other things." Specifically, he wanted chops and beer.
If you are stabbed while playing Pokémon Go, or any other time, please get medical help before you get beer.
It's led to congressional inquiries
Concerns about privacy issues with Pokémon Go (its use of users' cameras and location data, in particular) have led Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to send Niantic seven questions, asking the company to answer by August 12.
This is not an ill-thought out Saturday Night Live bit from 1999, I promise.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org