via Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO, clarionledger.com
“Oh, wonderful,” I muttered to myself as I perused story after story about Pokemon GO. “Another way to keep people glued to their phone screens while they walk into open manholes and traffic.” And sure enough, this new game has exploded across the globe, reviving the moribund Pokemon brand and helping introduce a new generation to the devilishly cute cartoon creatures. If you see knots of people who appear to be wandering aimlessly around your neighborhood, transfixed by their phone screens and oblivious to all else around them, it could be Pokemon GO.
In case you’ve been on Pluto the past week and haven’t checked your newsfeed, Pokemon GO is an “augmented reality” game played through an app, a sort of scavenger hunt in which people visit a specific (real-world) location to find and “collect” Pokemon characters. The app will activate your phone’s camera feature when a Pokemon is “nearby”, superimposing the cartoon creatures on the image of a park bench, a monument, a landscape, or (disturbingly) inside people’s homes.
(For the uninitiated, “Pokemon” is a shortened form of “pocket monsters” and first became known a couple of decades ago as kids played Pokemon games on their Game Boy handheld consoles, watched Pokemon cartoons, and — of course — traded Pokemon cards.)
While it is laudable that the game is getting couch potatoes off their feet and involved in social interaction, the game has also created a slew of problems and concerns, ranging from players being targeted by crooks (even right here in central Mississippi), to users disrespecting somber sites, like Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum and the 911 Memorial. It has also alarmed many people because the app is collecting personal data from cellphone users, including users’ birthdays, email addresses and physical location.
Here are a few of the concerns that have been raised, and although many users are young adults, the game is especially magnetic for kids and teens. The ever-reliable Consumer Reports published an article by Tercius Bufete, who along with many others has highlighted things parents should be concerned about:
- It’s only free to a point. While the app is free to download, users can make in-app purchases up to $99.99. Also, the app uses constant location tracking, which can drive up your data usage, and since distracted kids can easily drop their devices as they hunt, it could result in broken devices requiring costly repairs. Before using the game, check the settings to ensure in-app purchases are controlled.
- Stranger danger. The game encourages players to work with other people, which could be concerning because your kids might be interacting with strangers. An in-game feature called “Lure Module,” which attracts Pokemon to a “PokeStop” for 30 minutes, could be used to lure people to a place where they could be attacked or abducted. It would be a good idea to ensure your kids travel in groups of people you know, and never go alone.
- Personal data could be compromised. The product requires you to register, and although the app does include a parental notice that they can request restrictions on personal data, it will also collect data on the user’s specific location, and keeps messages sent between players.
- Trespassing. When the geocaching craze hit a few years ago, property owners raised concerns about people stomping across their property looking for hidden caches of “treasure” using GPS devices. Similarly, there have already been many cases of Pokemon GO users entering personal property while hunting for Pokemon characters. Users could easily wander into a dangerous construction site, for example, or be mistaken for thieves.
- Personal injury. When your attention is glued to your phone screen while walking, you might easily stumble on a curb or obstacle, or into a busy street. Studies have shown that texting can change the way you walk, leading to potential injury and even death. Over the past several years, people have been killed as they used their mobile devices while walking.
While Pokemon GO is probably like a meteor that will burn brightly for a while, then be replaced by the next shiny object, it’s likely that it’s a harbinger of things to come, as the “digital” world merges with the “real” world. For parents, the task will be to ensure our kids are as safe and informed as we can make them as they live in the new realities to come.