Back in 2006, Doctor Who included a new origin episode for the cybernetically augmented antagonists, the Cybermen. In it, the villain converts much of the population to Cybermen by dint of a bluetooth like “EarPod” headset. The EarPod is kind of an enhanced iPhone, delivering music, news and information directly to the brain of the wearer. The population values the gadget and the convenience, and so most wear the EarPods without much concern. However, on command, this device becomes the tool for mastery over men, converting wearers to Cybermen.

I was reminded of the episode this week as I watched the explosion of traditional and social media coverage for the new mobile app Pokémon GO. If, like me, you had never heard of Pokémon GO until this week, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

Pokémon GO is a game app for iOS and Android which places the titular creatures from the famed Japanese cartoon in the physical world, encouraging users to explore the physical world with phone in hand to catch the Pokémon and interact with other players. The game encourages physical movement, which at least for my kids, would be a bonus over traditional video/mobile games where players typically stay in one place.. Pokémon GO is notable for its use of Augmented Reality to permit the user to spot the Pokémon in a real world environment. While this isn’t the first app to gamify location – Swarm/Foursquare, Run Zombie Run and others have all blazed that trail – but this is the first to catch on with kids – both young and old – and shoot to the top of the charts. Also notable is that this is Nintendo’s (via their developer Niantic) first iOS app: an about-face for the company which had sworn-off mobile gaming on third-party platforms in the past. It’s a change of heart that is certainly making a few people at Nintendo happy as the game has added $7.5 billion in market-value to the firm just days after release.

But excitement for the app also comes amid concerns about the game’s privacy policy and data gathering. There are two aspects to the coverage: the wide ranging permissions that the app asks of the user (identity, access to location and camera) and the fairly permissive privacy policy that the developer has in sharing data with other third party, or even government, entities. Recognizing this uproar, the developer has released an incremental drop this week reducing the permissions the app seeks. However, this was not enough to belay privacy concerns as Senator Al Franken just sent a letter to Niatic asking for clarification on what data the app collects, as well as how the data is used and shared.

Some take the concerns one step further, claiming that the app is a tool of the surveillance state/Illuminati/take-your-pick-of-some-shadow-organization to gather lots of information from game playing “pawns.”

It’s a hell of a plan: make something addictive and gather the data… Of course, others already have: Facebook, Twitter and Swarm, just to  name three. Why the outrage this time? Perhaps because the app so explicitly targets children or has access to images from the camera that players take everywhere? Could this be a front for the state? It seems unlikely to me: after all the state can subpoena Niantic just like they can any other app provider. Niantic’s privacy policy explicitly makes this point in section 3e. Beyond that, being a tool of the state isn’t generally good business.

I encourage you to read the policy: it’s very well written and expressly describes what personally identifiable information will be shared with others while making it clear that if you don’t consent to sharing the data then you won’t have access to the game.

After all, that’s the point right? Nothing in life is free: if we’re not paying, we’re the commodity. Don’t want to be the commodity? Then perhaps you should just learn to take a walk and find real animals in your physical space. Or perhaps prepare yourself for the battlecry of the Cybermen: “DELETE!”

This post comes from Dan Bennett, vice president, Head of Data Enterprise Services at Thomson Reuters. For more from Dan, visit his profile on AnswersOn.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share