Pokémon Go: Learning Safety and Privacy Lessons From the News

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Pokémon GO has been out for a little less than a week. To say that the game has had an extraordinary impact on daily life is not an exaggeration. The app has been the number one downloaded app in both the iPhone’s App store and in the Android’s Google Play store since the day after it launched. It’s currently installed more than Tinder and is getting more usage than SnapChat and Instagram. Many statistics show that it is approaching the worldwide daily usage of Twitter.

Pokémon GO is HUGE. Don’t believe us? Take a walk to a local park and look at the sheer number of kids, teens, and adults wandering around with their phones trying to catch ‘em all. Is there a monument nearby? Check out the crowds surrounding the monument. Check out some local businesses. Do they have signs up offering discounts to Pokémon GO players? Are they asking people to not loiter with the app outside of their storefront? Has your local Police Department put up cautionary notices and posts on their FaceBook page or Twitter account?

Here at EFG, we were aware of Pokémon GO way before it showed up on mainstream media’s radar. We knew it was coming, had a basic idea of how it would work, and were familiar with the company’s first Augmented Reality game called Ingress. We had plenty of time to discuss this game with our family and brainstorm possible safety issues and solutions to those issues. We were lucky enough to put a game plan into place and set up rules and limitations before the game was available. Many families did not have this luxury and have seen both awesome and terrifying things about Pokémon GO on the news/internet. In this article we will address some of the biggest Safety & Security concerns associated with the game and we are going to share our rules and some tips to help keep your family safe while playing this exciting new game.

Below are some of the major headlines we’ve seen regarding Pokémon GO in the last few days. Some of these headlines are pure fiction from gag websites, some are real and documented by mainstream news reports, some are pure speculation, and some are a mix of fact and fiction. We will look at each one individually.

Pokémon GO causes major traffic incident as man stops on highway to catch Pikachu!

False! (Source)

This article is fiction and originated on a fake internet news site, but it was written as a warning of what could potentially happen and has coined the very valuable hashtag #DontPokémonGOandDrive. This should be common sense. Our phones should NEVER be in our hands when we are behind the wheel. We have told our children this many times and they actively police us if they see us pick up our phone. Whatever it is, it can wait. This is a very important topic to discuss with any teens that may be driving as often as you can. Hearing this often can and does save lives.

Child finds dead body searching for Pokémon in river!

True, but overblown. (Source)

This one is mostly true. Though, just to clarify, it wasn’t a young child and the girl was not physically in the river searching for a Pokémon. It was 19 year old out for a walk and she was looking for water type Pokémon so she decided to take a walk on a bridge by a river. She saw a body floating in the water in the distance and called authorities. She was being safe, was not overtly frightened by what she saw, and she continues to play the game and was not discouraged by her gruesome find.

This is a great place to bring up one of our first safety concerns that we discussed with our children. Even though you are playing a game, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. You still need to look up from your phone, look both ways before crossing the street, and follow the same common sense safety techniques you follow on any outing. Niantic even includes warnings within the app to stay alert and aware.

Man/Teen/Black Man shot while trespassing in park/graveyard/church/neighbor’s yard trying to catch a rare Pokémon!

This headline has many variations that have turned up on Twitter and fake news websites. No credible or substantial news source has any documented information about Pokémon GO related shootings. This seems to play on fears from recent US events and headlines and is a form of clickbait. The only credible information similar to this headline seems to come from a few Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments asking players to be aware of private property regulations and public property hours and asking players not to trespass on local properties.

The idea of trespassing has become a MAJOR concern with Pokémon GO, and we want to make sure we touch on a few key facts. First, the game is DESIGNED so that you do not HAVE to trespass. If you see a Pokémon in a neighbor’s yard, you do not actually have to walk on their property. You have to be in range (generally on a sidewalk or public street in front of the property) and then you can tap on the Pokémon and it will bring the Pokémon up directly in front of you. However, it is good to make your family aware that monuments, parks, public buildings, beaches, and historical landmarks do have typical hours of operation and you need to respect those hours. In most US locations, those hours are dawn till dusk. Please do yourself and fellow gamers alike a favor, and honor those times. Also, before going on Pokémon adventures with your family or allowing your children to go out by themselves in your neighborhood, it is a good idea to discuss the concept of trespassing and also to discuss how certain innocent behaviors may seem suspicious to outside observers.

Pokémon GO a massive front for the government to steal all of your information via Google account!

False! (Source)

This one has less extreme versions on national news networks, in local papers, on conspiracy theory websites and on dozens of technology websites. The basic story is that by logging into our Google accounts and by agreeing to the privacy agreement and acknowledging the fine print legal information at the start of the game, we gave Niantic access to our Google email, our iPhone or Android photo albums, our location histories, and all of our Google account data including Google Docs.

Originally, it appeared to be true and a mistake made by Niantic. Thankfully, tech savvy users picked up on this potential breach of security and notified the game makers who promised to fix it as soon as possible.

Here’s the full statement Niantic provided to The Verge:

“We recently discovered that the Pokémon GO account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”

Further research revealed that there never really was a breach. But, if you are still concerned with privacy, you can always create a dummy Google account and log in fully incognito. If you want to be even more secure you can either use a spare phone or buy a cheap used one off eBay. Set up your main phone with a VPN, turn it into a Wi-Fi hotspot, and play from your spare phone with your dummy gmail account. This seems a bit extreme, but we are here to provide the information.

Children lured to dangerous situation by armed robbers via in game connection.

Misleading, but true. (Source)

First of all, the people *lured* to the *dangerous area* were not children, they were adults. Second, these incidents occurred at 2am. It is likely safe to assume most young kids won’t be out at that time. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of the attempted robberies were teens who have been caught. The whole thing is actually very sad.

What happened in this situation is scary and unfortunate, but could have been avoided with some common sense safety preparation. In Pokémon GO there is an item called a “Lure Module.” This item can be used at a Poke Stop to lure Pokémon to that specific area. That Lure Module is universal and works for all players in that area, and all players walking near there can see that a Lure has been used and can take advantage of that to catch more Pokémon. The Lure lasts for 30 minutes.

In this situation the robbers dropped the Lure hoping to catch players unaware and rob them. Yes, it was scary. Yes, it was taking advantage of game mechanics to commit a crime and draw people to an area. No, this shouldn’t/won’t happen to you or your children if you have a plan in place. Make sure your children know not to go exploring at night. Make sure your children know to use the buddy system and never walk alone. Make sure your children are aware of their location and the people around them. They shouldn’t randomly walk up to a Poke Stop with a Lure by themselves without first looking around to make sure the area is safe. At this point (a mere week after the game’s release) most police and authority figures know where most of the Poke Stops are in their areas and are policing them to keep them safe during daylight hours.

Finally, it is important to note that at this point in time there is absolutely NO WAY to communicate with other people via the Pokémon GO app.

Thousands injured who were not paying attention while playing the trendy new app Pokémon GO.

Yep, it’s true. If you search Twitter, you can see hundreds of photos of Pokémon GO related injuries. There are images of scraped and bruised up legs, bumped and bruised foreheads, scraped up arms, and even a black eye or two. Obviously the game is dangerous. It must require extreme activities. Right? Nope. These are people who were injured while walking. Yes, just walking. Now, we are not going to call these people clumsy or careless…OK, maybe we are. These injuries are a result of a lack of common sense. Look up from your phone. Pay attention to where you are going. Wear good walking shoes, not flip flops or high heels. Don’t randomly cross streets, wander off the road into brambles, climb tall rocks or jump into lakes or rivers searching for Pokémon.

With each and every one of these headlines, any of these situations could have easily be avoided. Talk to your kids about safety the same way you would if you were going on a hike. Discuss the areas that they are allowed to go. Give them a real world map. As a matter of fact, give them a backpack so they can be like Ash Ketchum or a Boy Scout and always BE PREPARED. Toss a water bottle and a few band aids or maybe a granola bar or two into the backpack along with the map. If you get into this game you may be walking farther and longer than expected. It’s just that fun and engaging.

It is also worth noting that Pokémon Go vibrates when a Pokémon is nearby. This means you can hold your phone in one hand while you walk and just pay attention to the vibrations. This will prevent most of these types of injuries.

Our Pokémon Go Family Rules

  • Pay attention to where you are and where you are walking. Look up and around as soon as you catch a Pokémon. Make sure the area around you is safe.
  • Stranger Danger rules apply. Never EVER approach a Poke Stop with an adult standing alone. It’s not safe for a child to be in an area with a lone adult who is a stranger.
  • An adult out by themselves will never legitimately need a child’s help. Say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t” and offer to get your parents for them or another adult that can help them. Walk away quickly.
  • No matter how innocuous it seems and how innocent it seems, a child should never assume an adult is playing Pokémon GO and offer to assist them.
  • Use the buddy system whenever possible and walk with a parent or friend.
  • Do not go out searching for Pokémon at night and always walk in a well lit area that you’re familiar with.

If you have listened to us speak on our podcast (Engage! A Family Gaming Podcast), joined in our chats on our Engaged Family Gaming Community, or if you have read a lot of our articles, you will be familiar with one of our most popular sayings. Here at EFG we believe that playing games WITH your children is the best gaming experience that you can have. It is more enjoyable for you as a parent and for your child. It is a great bonding experience, a great way to get in some family time, and a perfect way to develop trust and encourage discussions with your child. To that end, we can not think of a better game to enjoy together as a family. But, it is important to have a game plan in place, a clear set of rules and guidelines, and maybe even practice some safety drills before going on your Pokémon GO adventures.

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