1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Are Pokemon Go players themselves the real prey?

August 5, 2016

A German data privacy commissioner has warned against "Pokemon Go," the hit mobile game. It's a "giant data collection machine," Marit Hansen says, which not only spies on each user but also can steer consumer behavior.

A Pokemon in the target sights
Image: DW/C. Groß

Hansen, privacy commissioner in Germany's northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, told the "Handelsblatt" newspaper on Friday the mobile phone game accumulated "exact and detailed" data on each user's street movements.

The game's California-based developer Niantic not only sought access to the user's camera and microphone but also provided a marketing tool to "deliberately steer" users toward "Pokestops" at retail outlets, she said.

Legal controls were lacking, Hansen said, echoing recent diverse warnings on the augmented reality app from New York, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

"Because it involves a purveyor outside Europe, we lack the juristic leverage to take action," Hansen said, referring to EU-US wrangles over cross-border data transfers and Niantic's reliance on Google' extensive Maps service.

A screeshot from Pokemon Go
Hansen urges users to protect their identities so that they are not open to exploitation when data is sharedImage: DW/C. Groß

Last month, the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV) said it had challenged 15 clauses in Niantic's terms of usage and privacy statements, giving the concern until 9 August to respond, and warning otherwise it would go to court.

'Era of total control'

"Handelsblatt" deputy editor Thomas Tuma, in his Friday editorial, said "Pokemon Go" was the start signal for a "new era of total control."

In just three weeks since its region-by-region launch worldwide, 75 million people had downloaded the game "all without force of arms or resistance," said Tuma,

"Hooked" because it was initially free, "we have to pay more than ever before with our data," including listings of friends, Tuma added.

"Germany is going berserk. Then comes Japan, Starts are planned in South America. Africa is waiting."

The game throws up serious problems, Tuma warned, because all the "cute monsters are the Trojan Horses with which the internet industry rides its way into our heads and our wallets."

"We users are being exploited," he said. "The real ones who are being captured are us ourselves."

NY bans usage by sex offenders

Last Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed his corrections department to ban the state's 3,000 sex offenders from using "Pokemon Go."

A game feature that allows users to lure players for a fee to specific locations, had the potential to be abused by "predators" seeking children," Cuomo said.

Niantic on its website says users must be no younger than 13 years and comply with "applicable law" to play its games.

Cartoon monsters

In the USA, the craze has seen people wandering into yards, driveways, cemeteries and even off-limit police parking lots in search of the cartoon monsters.

The United Arab Emirates's telecommunications authority TRA warned users two weeks ago not to activate their phone cameras at home or in other private areas.

Australian police said a couple out playing were threatened at gunpoint in a park south of Sydney.

ipj/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)