Privacy Concerns Don’t Stop the Pokémon Frenzy

Image Courtesy of YouTube

Spencer Wu
Staff Writer

The newly-released Pokémon GO app has prompted many to go outside in order to fulfill their childhood fantasies. Everywhere you look, you’re almost sure to find somebody perusing a street corner or navigating through a public park. However, the revitalization of the Pokémon brand comes with some unforeseen complications.

This application allows lifelong fans of the animated show or game to catch virtual Pokémon with their smartphones in real world settings. Most are aware that the app tracks users’ location (tons of top apps utilize this feature) as GPS tracking is a fundamental aspect of the game. We are seemingly okay with that. However, Pokémon GO also requires users to either log into their Google accounts or a Pokémon Club account in order to begin navigating the semi-virtual reality world.

With this comes a conflict between our desire for privacy and our desire to become Pokemon masters. Niantic, the mobile game company behind Pokémon GO, can easily access personal contacts, emails and other sorts of sensitive information. User data is processed by privately owned companies and sent to third-party applications to potentially advertise to the gamers. Essentially, sensitive information serves as a catalog for other companies to utilize in the form of advertisements. Niantic justifies this usage by stating in its privacy policy that its “primary goal in collecting information [is] to provide and improve Services.” With this, Niantic legally has the right to use this data at its own discretion, jeopardizing user information.  

For the purposes of the game, this sensitive information is absolutely unnecessary. There’s no function that a personal email chain can serve in catching an elusive Pocket Monster. Niantic could potentially leverage this private information for its own financial benefit.

We view the exclusive catering of advertising as a sort of creepy stranger who has done too much research on us. Boundaries are overstepped as web privacy and security are often ignored in favor of the pursuit of profit. Niantic explicitly dubbed its users’ information as a “business asset” in its Privacy Policy. Selling personal information in such a manner should deter even its most avid users from opening the game. Consumers should be aware that this murky practice of garnering information to sell is a violation of basic privacy rights and  a breach in the standard vendor-consumer relationship.

This leaves consumers at a crossroads. Does their affinity for the game outweigh their fear of a mishandling of personal information? It seems as though a majority of the players are aware that Niantic collects sensitive data, like phone contacts, but still opt to open the app. No matter what corporations do that infringe on our rights, people still consume the product regardless of the consequences.To most consumers, the privacy violations are a necessary evil that allows them entry into the revamped world of Pokémon.

Pokémon GO has utilized its brand as a means to store users’ private information. Although such acts are clearly problematic, the raging popularity of the game trumps the potential repercussions. The way things are looking now, these third party companies won’t need to search for our personal information nearly as hard as we’re looking for Pokémon.