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Pokemon Go: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Pokemon Go mobile game image. Click to view larger version The game's popularity proliferated after a July 6 launch in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States: 7.5 million downloads during its first week; 50 million downloads from Google Play during its first month; and it was WikiPedia's most visited article by mid-July. (View the game's Wikipedia pageviews.) Everyone noticed. Early in July, a former advertising coworker joked on Facebook:

" 'How about we partner with Pokemon Go?' -- Said in every office at every agency for every client this morning."

Probably. The augmented-reality (AR) mobile game requires players to travel real-life streets to find and capture digital characters superimposed on locations and displayed on the screens of players' phones. The game's screens also display PokeStops and gyms, locations superimposed on real-life landmarks. The CNN video at the end of this blog post provides a good summary. The Apple iTunes site explains important game details:

"Search far and wide for Pokémon and items: Certain Pokémon appear near their native environment—look for Water-type Pokémon by lakes and oceans. Visit PokéStops, found at interesting places like museums, art installations, historical markers, and monuments, to stock up on Poké Balls and helpful items... As you level up, you’ll be able to catch more-powerful Pokémon to complete your Pokédex. You can add to your collection by hatching Pokémon Eggs based on the distances you walk... Take on Gym battles and defend your Gym: As your Charmander evolves to Charmeleon and then Charizard, you can battle together to defeat a Gym and assign your Pokémon to defend it against all comers."

Pokemon Go mobile game image with character. Click to view larger version For many players, Pokemon Go has been a nostalgic return to their youth when Pokemon existed in cartoons, video games, and board-games. Some experts have speculated that the game's popularity, as measured by daily active users, may have peaked in the United States.

What do we know so far about the AR game? What has happened since the game's launch? What happens when a mobile fantasy game combines real-life locations? Are non-players affected? What might be the implications for future AR games? I looked for answers, found plenty, and organized my findings into good, bad, and ugly categories -- with apologies to Mr. Leone and Mr. Eastwood.

The Good

Niantic Labs developed the game for Apple iOS and Android devices. Earlier this month, the game debuted in Latin America. Reviewers have cited the game's addictive qualities:

"... Pokemon Go’s game designers have perfectly executed on the “Hook Model” — a framework for gamification and getting users to come back again and again and again."

Advocates have said that the game has gotten gamers off of their couches (e.g., butts) and out into the real world to get exercise, meet people, and explore locations they probably wouldn't have visited otherwise. Sounds good.

Within the game, PokeStops and gyms are located in publicly-accessible locations, such as theme parks, gardens, and museums. This has increased the sales at some nearby, small businesses. IGN reported on July 21:

"Bok Tower Gardens, a “contemplative garden” and National Historic Landmark located in Lake Wales, Fl, is saturated with PokeStops. The non-profit recorded a 10 to 15 percent increase in ticket sales during the first week of Pokemon Go’s release... So far, the only way to become a PokeStop or gym is to send in a request to Niantic Labs, but it isn't likely to be accepted unless the location is one of cultural significance or in a Pokemon Go deadzone."

The Twitter account Pokemon Archaeology catalogs Pokemon sightings in historic locations. The National Park Service (NPS) has welcomed gamers in many of its parks, but not at memorial sites. Some National Parks have featured programs with the game. Earlier this month, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offered a new program called "Pokemon Hunt:"

"... to connect “Pokemon Go!” with real-world flora and fauna... This interactive, ranger-guided walk will allow visitors to uncover the creatures, both physical and virtual, that can be found within the National Lakeshore. They will learn how these creatures do or do not fit in with the rest of the environment, and what can be done to help them thrive. At the end of the program, visitors will be able to design their own Pokemon. “Trainers” of all ages are welcome."

This summer, the NPS celebrates 100 years of operations. Gamers should check the NPS site to learn about any discounts and programs before visiting a park.

Some local businesses near colleges and universities experienced increased sales from gamers. Minnesota Daily reported:

"Many local Minneapolis businesses have considered, or implemented, special promotions to attract more mobile-gamers. Last week, Sencha Tea Bar in Stadium Village released three special shakes in correspondence with the three color teams of the game — red, yellow and blue — said store manager Josh Suwaratana. Suwaratana said the store does special shakes for other occasions, so the Pokemon shakes weren’t anything out of the ordinary... Sencha is also located next to a Pokestop — a real-life location where players can obtain items in the game. Suwaratana said the proximity to the Pokestop has helped business attract players."

The BBC News reported that the game helped an autistic teenager. Autism Speaks published this perspective by a psychologist:

"... I would encourage parents to seize the opportunity for their children to capitalize on this gaming experience while at the park or when running errands. My advice is not to judge this new gaming experience as all bad and in need of limits. Rather let’s embrace a step toward video games and virtual reality that may one day be tailored to inspiring those we love with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to leave the house and receive points/rewards/tokens for gathering information from other people they encounter in the store, at work, or at a place of leisure. To me that sounds an awful lot like what I have been trying to get them to do by learning social skills in my office each week..."

To focus the world's attention upon the impacts to citizens and children, activists have added Pokemon characters to images from war zones. C/Net reported on July 26 that Khaled Akil, a Syrian artist:

"... has taken Pokemon Go creatures and Photoshopped them into pictures of his war-torn homeland, presenting a stark contrast between the whimsy of the augmented-reality game and the sobering day-to-day realities of war... In one image, a young boy walks his bike through a street lined by bombed-out buildings, a Vaporeon by his side. In another, a Pikachu rests on a block of rubble next to a burning car... the activist group Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office has been tweeting poignant photos of kids holding up printouts of popular Pokemon creatures, along with their locations, which are identified as being near areas of heavy fighting, and the words 'save me'..."

To view photos, follow the links in the C/Net article to Akil's website and Instagram account.

The Niantic Terms of Service policy clearly encourages safe game play and describes players' responsibilities:

"During game play, please be aware of your surroundings and play safely. You agree that your use of the App and play of the game is at your own risk, and it is your responsibility to maintain such health, liability, hazard, personal injury, medical, life, and other insurance policies as you deem reasonably necessary for any injuries that you may incur while using the Services. You also agree not to use the App to violate any applicable law, rule, or regulation (including but not limited to the laws of trespass) or the Trainer Guidelines, and you agree not to encourage or enable any other individual to violate any applicable law, rule, or regulation or the Trainer Guidelines. Without limiting the foregoing, you agree that in conjunction with your use of the App you will not inflict emotional distress on other people, will not humiliate other people (publicly or otherwise), will not assault or threaten other people, will not enter onto private property without permission, will not impersonate any other person or misrepresent your affiliation, title, or authority, and will not otherwise engage in any activity that may result in injury, death, property damage, and/or liability of any kind."

The "Conduct, General Prohibitions, and Niantic’s Enforcement Rights" section of the policy also lists the responsibilities of players, including players will not:

"... trespass, or in any manner attempt to gain or gain access to any property or location where you do not have a right or permission to be..."

So, it is important for players to know their responsibilities. Do they? Keep reading.

The Bad

Foot traffic by gamers in public parks hasn't been all good. Some gamers have ignored local laws and ordinances. WPRI in Providence, Rhode Island reported:

"Members of the East Providence Police Department said “Pokemon Go” has drawn huge crowds of people to local parks after hours... Officers say they have responded to several calls about the crowds. “They are very peaceful, they’re not causing problems, but it is in a public area – in public parks – and people who live in those areas do deserve to have their rest at night,” said Maj. William Nebus of the East Providence Police Department. “Our parks do close at 9 p.m. and just to have 200 people lurking in overnight hours is not peaceful to the residents.”

Law enforcement in Michigan ticketed players with misdemeanors after late-night, 12:30 a.m. game play. Nearby property owners have found players intrusive. There are two implications. First, it's important for players to understand and comply with local town ordinances and hour restrictions. Second, taxpayers will likely absorb the additional costs of park maintenance, clean-up, and law enforcement patrols to address the increased foot traffic in local parks.

It's critical for players to remain alert. In somewhat weird news, a gamer kept playing after being stabbed by a mugger. And a North-Texas teenager was bitten by a venomous snake while playing. In Missouri, criminals staked out known PokeStops and robbed players. A gamer in Riverton, Wyoming found a dead body.

While some gamers play on foot, others drive their vehicles. As you've probably guessed, there have been auto accidents. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

"A driver, distracted by a Squirtle or a Zubat, caught a tree, instead of a Pokemon. That collision occurred last month in Auburn, N.Y., near Syracuse. A few days later, a 28-year-old driver on a highway near Seattle told officials he was focused on the hunt for Pikachu when he ran into the rear end of a Chevrolet. Another distracted driver in Baltimore smashed into a police car. A parked police car."

Like any game, some gamers play by the rules while others don't. An entertaining video listing the ways players cheat has more than 6.7 million views. Niantic highlighted its policy toward cheaters:

"Your account was permanently terminated for violations of the Pokémon GO Terms of Service. This includes, but is not limited to: falsifying your location, using emulators, modified or unofficial software and/or accessing Pokémon GO clients or backends in an unauthorized manner including through the use of third party software."

Soon after the game's debut, privacy risks were discovered:

"Security researcher Adam Reeve noted that when some users sign into Pokemon Go through Google on Apple devices, they effectively give the game and its developer full access to their Google account; this means, that at least in theory, Niantic... can access players' Gmail-based email, Google Drive based files, photos and videos stored in Google Photos, and any other content within their Google accounts. From a technical perspective, Niantic could potentially send emails on your behalf, or copy and distribute your photos. This is obviously concerning. Perhaps even scarier - and more eye-opening - is that users are accepting such permissions en masse without regard for the risks."

Since then, Niantic and the Pokemon Company notified Engadget that it fixed the bug in a subsequent update. Regardless, the Offensive Privacy blog warned players who have signed up using their Google credentials:

"... to review Google's guide on controlling and revoking app access to your account and check your account to see what permissions the game has. If it still has full access to your Google account, you can simply revoke access, then sign-in to the game again using your Google account. Your data will be safe and you can ensure your Google account is safe as well."

The Offensive Privacy blog offered privacy tips given the game's usage of smartphone cameras:

"While it's a bit outlandish to think that Niantic collects the video streams from every device, it is always a possibility that cannot be completely ruled out. This means anything your camera sees could, in theory, be stored by Niantic... I suggest some common sense tactics that apply to all cameras and video streams when using the AR mode of the game: 1) Never allow the camera to see personal ID such as your license, passport, or other sensitive document; 2) Never let the camera see a license plate or government building. This is especially true for those working in high-security environments; and 3) Avoid letting the camera see street signs, your house, house numbers, etc. It's also possible that metadata could be embedded in the image and made available if the image is shared publicly..."

Regular readers of this blog are already familiar with the privacy issues associated with metadata collection. Some players may be surprised that tips to maintain privacy while playing requires effort.

Yes, security researchers have already found malware embedded in a rogue version of the Pokemon Go app. So, shop wisely at reputable sites and follow these tips to avoid the malware.

One measure of popularity are parodies. There is a porn parody of the game titled, "Poke-mon Ho!" Depending upon your lifestyle, you might categorize this as "good." Yes, the parody reportedly is NSFW. No, I haven't seen it.

The Ugly

Some property owners view the game as inappropriate for their locations. CNN Reported in July:

"The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, both in Washington, DC area, have both issued appeals for players to avoid hunting Pokemon on their sites. "Playing Pokemon Go in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is extremely inappropriate," said Andy Hollinger, director of communications at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in a statement sent to CNNMoney. "We are attempting to have the Museum removed from the game," the statement said... Pokemon Go has a link set up for people to report sensitive locations and contact on its website... According to a statement from The Pokemon Company International and Niantic -- the creators of Pokemon Go -- Pokestops and gyms in the app are found at publicly accessible places. That includes historical markers, public art installations, museums, monuments -- and apparently churches."

I see two problems with the approach the game's developers used. First, the approach seems to have treated all public spaces the same, without considering the unique needs of cemeteries, memorials, and similar places. Game-play isn't appropriate everywhere. Second, Niantic's approach automatically included real-life locations as PokeStops and gyms without first obtaining the property owners' permissions. This approach places the burden on property owners (who aren't players nor participants) to opt-out of the game. Not good. Maybe this was a slick attempt to force property owners to participate. Not good.

Some players have wandered onto nearby private properties. ComputerWorld reported on August 2:

"Jeffrey Marder, a resident of West Orange, N.J., found in the days after the release of the successful augmented reality game Pokémon Go, that strangers, phone in hand, had begun lingering outside his home. At least five of them knocked on Marder’s door and asked for access to his backyard to catch and add to their virtual collections of the Pokémon images, superimposed over the real world, that the game developer had placed at the residence without his permission."

Marder is part of a lawsuit alleging that the game included locations on private properties, without the owners' permissions. The Click on Detroit site reported on August 15:

"Scott Dodich and Jayme Gotts-Dodich, of St. Clair Shores, filed a class action lawsuit against Niantic, The Pokemon Company and Nintendo... The couple lives on a private cul-de-sac and alleges that over several weeks, Pokemon Go players parked their vehicles on their street and blocked driveways. The couple also alleges that players trespassed on lawns, trampled landscaping and peered into windows. The complaint also alleges that when Jayme Gotts-Dodich asked a Pokemon Go player to leave her property, the player told her to “shut up b****, or else... The suit alleges that the intentional, unauthorized placement of Pokestops and Pokemon gyms on or near private property constitutes a continuing invasion of use and enjoyment. Due to the ignored repeated requests for removal, the couple believes that Niantic is liable for nuisance and that all defendants have been unjustly enriched.”

If a disagreement arises between Niantic and a player, that may not be resolved in court in front of a jury of the gamer's peers. The Niantic Terms of Service policy strips gamers of that right:


To opt out of binding arbitration, players must do so within 30 days of sign up. This BoingBong explained how to opt out, and the associated issues. Of course, players should read all game policies in their entirety before sign up. (You did, right?) Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the issues with binding arbitration.

The Future

Given the success so far of Pokemon Go, it seems wise to expect copycats. The Motely Fool speculated:

"Pokemon Go has added a new layer of excitement to a day at Disney World for those who seek that variety of enchantment. Disney is benefiting from the craze, even as non-players shake their heads while swerving around distracted gamers. This also could and should be just the beginning. It's only a matter of time before it rolls out its own augmented-reality app... A Disney app likely also wouldn't include a Pokemon-like battle element, at least not in terms of pitting Pluto against Yoda in combat. However, the Disney gym equivalent could be mini-game stations offering everything from speed Disney trivia matches to Virtual Magic Kingdom-type competitions... There are more than 200 Disney Store locations scattered across North America, and more than 120 overseas. These stores can also serve as character-collecting hubs, giving players a local connection for special events. It would also keep interest active outside of theme park visits..."

You can bet we'll see many more AR games with fantasy or fictional characters; probably with co-marketing agreements between AR games, movies, fast-food restaurants, toy stores, and the few remaining shopping malls. Experts estimate the global AR market to be $117.4 billion by 2022.

It's not just fantasy characters. Experts have estimated the augmented reality and virtual reality market within healthcare to be $2.54 billion by 2020. Hopefully, more games (and other services) will offer in their policies opt-out mechanisms from restrictive binding arbitration clauses.

What are your opinions of Pokemon Go? Of AR games? What advantages and disadvantages have you found? Does the good outweigh the bad?


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Chanson de Roland

It hardly seems like the Good, that is, getting off the couch, moving your butt, and getting out from behind the screen of a computing device to see the real world and perhaps even meet some real people, is anywhere near being worth the Bad and Ugly, that is, the gross invasion of privacy and Niantic possibly reserving to itself the extraordinary rights to view and even control one's personal accounts and even one's devices, and the Ugly of trespassing upon others' rights in their property and on the peace and dignity of our public parks and museums and people behaving rudely in the urgent pursuit of Pokemon. However, that seems to be the way of the world, that we trade what’s truly valuable, such as our privacy and other rights and good civil conduct, for what is at best charitably described as trivial, that is, playing a game to catch the Pokemons.

And then there is Niantic's arbitration clause, where it shield's itself from any responsibility for the breaches of law and rights that it causes and facilitates with Pokemon Go, so that added to the Bad and Ugly is that the Pokey pursuers, who violates rights or otherwise break the law, can't seek any remedy from Ninatic for its legal responsibility for unlawful acts, such as directing Pokey pursuers into trespassing upon private property or violating the sanctity of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where we honor the memory of six million Jews who the Nazis murdered, and Arlington National Cemetery, where we honor our soldiers who have fallen in the defense and service of our nation. So the Pokies accept Niantic's arbitration clause, which shields it from its responsibility for enabling and abetting these wrongs, so as to be able to pursue the Pokemon?

As for the Good, simply go to any of these places, museums, parks, etc., in a manner according to law and good conduct, on your own, and one can meet his friends at an agreed place, such as a coffee shop, or even invite them home, with no game being required.

However, I do thank the Editor for mentioning the claim of unjust enrichment, which had slipped my mind. That's a good one.

I just saw a movie over the weekend, Hell Or High Water, which showed that how heavily armed citizens are in the state of Texas and willing to use those arms to defend their rights, though that wasn’t the either the moral of the story. However, in view of the fact of Texans being so well armed and being so skilled in the use of their firearms, I strongly suggest, with the greatest solicitation for their welfare, that Pokies don’t pursue Pokemon onto private property in Texas, and that we asked to cease their trespass, they do so quickly and without protest and don’t dare call the lady of the house a bitch, for, if they do, there is an excellent chance that their days of pursing Pokemon will come to an abrupt and violent end, which would most likely be legal in Texas. And I am finding it difficult to have much sympathy for that admittedly tragic outcome.


This was perhaps the fastest global adoption of any new technology ever. It will pave the way for quick adoption of augmented realty in useful ways in many industries. I happen to be in commercial real estate and expect it to become a useful tool for developers, landlords, etc. As for the bad and ugly. Most of this is lack of basic common sense (on developers and users' part). Unfortunately that is difficult to teach. With regard to the future: We don't know what a world where fantasy is blended with reality will look like. We've seen it in movies or read about it in book, but sometimes life can be stranger than fiction.

Chanson de Roland

Dear Ms. Danielson: There is no doubt that augmented reality (AR) has its uses. And when appropriately regulated and applied, it can be useful in ways where the benefits exceed any harm, so that the net benefit makes particular applications of AR at least advisable. However, with the potential for good also comes the potential for harm, and it is easy to foresee the harms that could arise directly or indirectly from AR. The most immediate of these will be the further erosion of our privacy and what ought to be our right to own our personal information, as the price for "free" or even paid-for applications of AR will the further and even more extensively misappropriation of our personal information in exchange for many things that are as trivial as Pokemon Go. Other applications will provide great benefits in the professions, arts, sciences, commerce, etc., yet the exchange of our personal information for whatever services and benefits that will be provided will rarely be the result of a fair and/or informed consensual exchange.

And beyond violation of our privacy, AR will be used in nefarious ways, some of which can be easily imagined, while others will surprise even the cleverest of us.

Yet, none of the foregoing would be a cause for concern, if our government regulators and courts are and had shown themselves to be up to the challenged of appropriately regulating technology. But sadly that is not the case. Instead, we see that vast wealth and lobbying by those who make huge profits from technology have unduly influenced and thoroughly compromised the regulators, the legislatures, and the courts, so that it is almost certain that AR will proceed apace with very little of the appropriate regulation and/or award of damages that will be needed to restrain it within the bounds of activity that will result in a net social good and prevent injustice and harm to individuals.

So, while it is almost certain that AR won't yield a utopia, it is quite likely that it will verge toward dystopia before it is properly restrained.


More of the bad and ugly:

-In Japan, a truck driver struck two women and killed one while playing the game and driving at the same time. A Niantic Labs spokesperson confirmed that a pop-up screen was added to the game when it detects an increase in the player's speed.

- In Taipei, Taiwan a stampede by thousands of players blocked streets in the capital. Police have fined gamers who ride motorized scooters while playing.

- In Guatemala, a teenager was killed after breaking into a house while playing the game. Source:

Alleged video of the stampede is available at:

- In Cambodia, two Pokemon Go gyms located at the Tuol Sleng Memorial and Museum, a genocide site where about 3 million people were killed between 1975 and 1979:


Chanson de Roland

And, of course, that Pokemon Go now has a popup screen that pops up when it detects your increase in speed means that Pokemon Go detects and is monitoring your movements and location, which I suspect is something that most Pokies neither know or, if they know it, haven't considered the implications.

I offer just two of many serious implications. Since Pokemon Go has information about your speed and, thus, almost certainly has information about your location that information, as established by recent case precedents, would almost certainly be subject to either a government search warrant or subpoena. Also, a private lawyer could subpoena a Pokies' location and/or other data in a civil suit. And that subpoena would most likely be enforced, if the court found that it sought evidence relevant to either the issues of law or fact in a lawsuit.

And this just so that one can capture the Pokemon? Gee, those Pokemon must be really valuable or important--not to mention the mayhem of running innocent people down in the street.


More ugly:

"While playing the popular augmented-reality game Pokémon Go in Long Beach, a city that is nearly 50% white, Aura Bogado made an unsettling discovery — there were far more PokéStops and Gyms, locations where people pick up virtual goods or battle one another, than in her predominantly minority neighborhood in Los Angeles... So Bogado, who writes for environmental news outlet Grist, created the Twitter hashtag #mypokehood in July to crowdsource the locations of PokéStops. The results that poured in from across the county, and research from The Urban Institute think tank, bore out her experience..."

Is Pokémon Go racist? How the app may be redlining communities of color


"Back when Ingress players were mapping out the landmarks we now use to play Pokemon Go, black players were targeted by police. According to @typhoonjim, who played Ingress, a “black opponent received thorough grilling” by cops when mapping out spaces in Baltimore — and he reports hearing of similar accounts in other cities. Omari Akil explains that, as a black Pokemon player, he fears that circling neighborhoods while playing the game could even mean death. Muslim, Arab, and South Asian players might be considered a national threat when out catching Pikachu. What is considered suspicious behavior? According to Homeland Security, someone who loiters or takes “unusual, repeated, and/or prolonged observation of a building,” may be engaging in a “terrorism-related crime.” The problem is, playing Pokemon Go requires this exact kind of behavior... Because pokestops are concentrated in cities, rural players everywhere have trouble. But for Native Americans who live in reservations, it’s even tougher..."

Gotta catch ’em all? It’s a lot easier if you’re white


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