Renoites Catching Pokemon, Releasing Privacy

Jul 12, 2016

A polywag Pokemon is spotted in the Truckee River on July 10, 2016.
Credit Brihana Nicole, Instagram

People walking around while staring at their phones isn't a new phenomena, but the wildly popular mobile Pokemon Go game is taking it to another level. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports on how the craze is catching on locally, even amid privacy concerns.

So for those who did not come of age in the late 90s, here's a quick primer on Pokemon Go. It's an augmented reality adventure game that uses your phone's GPS to make animated characters, called Pokemon, appear on the screen. The goal is to, as the old theme song goes...

Nick Beaton and Derek Neff were playing with a group of their colleagues from the University of Nevada, Reno's athletic department the other day during their lunch break.

"I think the nostalgia factor is the biggest thing for me, like I said, I played [it] all throughout my childhood and it's just kinda new and revamped," says Beaton.

Neff enjoys the interactivity.

"I like how it highlights important places around town, too, so it makes you go to Lawlor Events Center, or the Joe [or] stuff on campus," he says. "I think it's just a really cool aspect of it, and highlights cool places in Reno."

"There's places that I found that I didn't even know existed," says Beaton. "As I was walking around, I was like 'Oh there's something there, no clue.'"

The game is a smash hit, and is likely to surpass Twitter in daily active users. But it's also attracting scrutiny for it's particularly invasive terms of service, which grant access to your location, phone camera and Google account.

"It's asking for an enormous number of permissions, some of which access data, whether it's private data or not, that it doesn't seem the game would actually need,” says Craig Macy, a local attorney specializing in intellectual property. 

The concern comes when this data, for example your IP address, is then sold to a third party to do whatever they like with it. This is becoming more of an issue now that technology companies essentially make you agree to their terms.

"There's no obligation by Pokemon or Facebook or Instagram or anyone else to allow you to use their service,” he says. “If you want to use it, you have to agree to their terms. When you say, ‘What can I do about it?’ Well you can tell someone not to use it, but yeah, but then you don't get to participate in this. That ends up being the trade."

Of course, the larger issue, according to Macy, may be that our expectation of privacy has eroded through our relationships with these apps.

This is true for Derek and Nick.

"Everybody knows where you are at all times, guess I'm not that concerned," says Derek.

"Definitely not the only app on my phone that can see what I'm doing and knows where I am. Until I get hacked or whatever, I guess I'll be ok," Nick says.

Nick is on level five but hopes to catch up to some of his other friends who've been glued to their phones all week.

For instructions on how to revoke access to your Google account, if you've already done so, can be found here.