The success of Pokémon GO marks a significant milestone
in the growing use of augmented reality and its implications for
privacy. As the Pokémon GO craze currently sweeping the
planet shows, our insatiable appetite to catch the next new piece
of smartphone software (or in this case a Pokémon)
continues to trump any consideration for the implications this
might have on our privacy.
While augmented reality has long been used for military,
industrial and medical applications, its huge potential for
commercial and entertainment applications is only now being
realised. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated, "We are high
on augmented reality for the long run, we think there's great
things for customers and a great commercial opportunity."
But while companies rush to take advantage of these opportunities,
recent events demonstrate that the privacy implications of this
technology have been left as an afterthought.
Pokémon GO challenges participants to find and catch
Pokémon characters in their real world
surroundings. As they move around, their phones will vibrate to let
them know they are near a Pokémon. Once
encountered, participants take aim on their smartphone touch screen
and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. All very
exciting and cutting edge, but very straightforward in how it
works. In short, the Pokémon GO application uses the
participants' smartphone camera and gyroscope to display an
image of a Pokémon as though it existed as a live
entity in the real world.
While it's true to say that as a society we've become
accustomed to public spaces being filled with groups of people
taking videos on their smartphones, what we are not used to is
large crowds gathering outside our homes.
Residents of the Sydney suburb of Rhodes were recently faced
with large numbers of Pokémon GO participants gathering in
their area. Players were looking to maximize their progress in the
game due to the appearance of a number of PokeStops, the
game's landmark-based locations that provide limited edition
items and special bonus points. With thousands of players
descending on their neighbourhood, residents resorted to throwing
water bombs at the visiting crowds out of frustration.
In another incident in Massachusetts a family living in an old
church were surprised to find that their house had been marked as a
Pokémon Gym; where participants get to train their
fictional creatures. As a result, the family found their front
garden inundated with Pokémon GO participants, all day and
Another key aspect of the game is its ability to constantly
record the participants' location so as to alert them to any
nearby Pokémon. As one participant in New York
discovered, this can cause problems, especially when you decide to
play the game at an ex-girlfriend's house and your new
girlfriend accuses you of cheating courtesy of your Pokémon
GO digital footprint. Furthermore, this digital record of our
whereabouts provides a new goldmine of information for marketeers.
Detailed knowledge of our movements is simply an extra tool in the
marketing armoury, allowing targeted messages to be sent to
consumers depending on their location.
Inevitably, it is only a matter of time until such a collection
of personal data will fall into the cross-hairs of the hackers.
Niantic, the software development company behind Pokémon GO,
administrative, physical, and electronic measures designed to
protect the information that it collects. It cannot, however,
guarantee absolute security.
So Pokémon GO participants; beware. You may discover that
there is more than just a Pokémon waiting for
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).