Pokémon Go is an app and game from Nintendo and The Pokémon Company that seems to have taken over the U.S. in record time. Pokémon Go is everywhere, and here's what parents need to know about Pokémon Go.
First, it is hugely popular. It was released last week, on July 6th, and caught on like wildfire. It's poised to have more users on Android than Twitter any day now, and it appeals to all ages. I know little ones who are loving it, and a lot of adults are all over it, too, but it's especially popular with tweens and teens.
You can see what all the buzz is about, what it looks like, and see people playing it in the trailer here:
* There are privacy concerns.
The company that developed the game, Niantic, Inc., gathers information about the players. The agreement says Pokémon Go collects data about its users as a “business asset.” You can read the Privacy Agreement here.
If you'd rather not do that, this Buzzfeed article explains that the game collects the information about where users are, when they arrived, how long they stayed, who they were with, and more. Using the app also involves access to cameras and photos on the phones used to play.
The game can also access users’ USB storage, contacts, network connections, and more.
iOS users can log in to Pokémon Go using their Google account, which means the app “can see and modify nearly all information in your Google Account” including Gmail, Google Drive, Google Maps and more, according to this USA Today article.
That's a lot of access to a lot of information. Joseph Bernstein makes a good point in this Buzzfeed article:
"[I]f the Niantic servers are hacked, whoever hacked the servers would potentially have access to your entire Google account. And you can bet the game’s extreme popularity has made it a target for hackers. Given the number of children playing the game, that’s a scary thought."
Update: Creators now say that the app "erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon GO only accesses basic Google profile information" and they are working on a fix, according to Mashable. Basic information includes email address and User ID.
* Users must be 13 years old, or have parental consent, which involves parents providing a lot of information.
In keeping with COPPA, users should be 13 years old, unless they have parental consent. The app states, "If we learn that we have received PII from a child under the age of 13 without the Parent providing consent, we will delete the child’s Account and all other PII collected in conjunction with such Account."
"The Parents of children under the age of 13 understand and agree that TPCI and/or Niantic may provide information collected via the Services, to third parties who use such information for the sole purpose of administering or providing the Service," the app states.
For children under 13 to use the app, parents must register before creating an account and registration requires the parents' an email address, birthday, the sum of the first and last digits of the Parent’s social security number, as well as a user name for the user and the date of birth of the user.
Common Sense Media has not yet rated the app, but there doesn't appear to be anything too disturbing in terms of content. The App Store rates it 9+ for "Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence."
* There are in-app purchases.
The app itself is free, but that doesn't mean that they aren't monetizing at all. The app says that "[f]or players who want to enhance their Pokémon GO experience even more, certain items and features can be accessed via in-app purchases. Players can spend real money on PokéCoins, the in-game currency of Pokémon GO."
Another cost concern is data. People are walking six miles easily while playing, and that kind of time can eat up a lot of data. To conserve data, close the app while you explore what you’ve found. Open it again when continue your journey.
When you see people playing the app, or even in the trailer above, they spend a lot of time looking down. While walking. That's not a good combo, especially when tweens and teens are often not stellar at staying aware of their surroundings without an engrossing distraction.
The app advises people, "Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings."
Police departments from Australia to Bangor, Maine, are also advising users to pay attention and even look both ways when crossing the street. Law enforcement is also asking people to use common sense and be aware of how they appear when playing the game. The Duvall, Washington, Police Department says on Facebook, "We have had some people playing the game behind the PD, in the dark, popping out of bushes, etc.," reads a Facebook post from the police department in Duvall, Wash. "This is high on our list of things that are not cool right now."
* It's getting kids up off the couch and outside.
A lot of parents are excited to see kids head out the door, and doing so without any parental prodding, to go play Pokémon Go.
But can there be too much of a good thing? The flip side of that is some people are finding the app addictive. I think a lot of parents are thankful this was released in the summertime and not during the usual academic year.
If you're looking to spend a little quality time, ask your kids to let you tag along or offer to drive them and see who you can catch together. (You can find a primer on how to play here.)
* PokeStops are everywhere.
There are 14 PokéStops in and around the Art Institute of Chicago and a bunch at Disneyland. Also, churches and police departments appear to be popular locations. (Talk with kids about being respectful when playing, and pretty much at all other times.) Which leads us to...
* The app can take you to some weird places. Be aware, and be cautious.
A 19-year-old women found a dead body when playing Pokémon Go in Wyoming, saying she was in an area she typically would not have gone. There are also stops in strip clubs and bars.
Police in Missouri say teenagers used the game to rob people standing a parking lot late at night. "Apparently they were using the app to locate ppl standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in," the O'Fallon Police Department wrote on their Facebook page. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says, police originally believed the alleged perpetrators were using the app to lure people but not "believe the robbers used their knowledge of the game to ambush victims at spots they knew would draw players, and picked relatively secluded spots for the crimes." (Hint: Standing in a remote or secluded parking lot late at night is usually not a great idea.)
Exploring is great, but remind kids to pay attention and let them know where you are (and are not) comfortable with them going.
* It may be more than a flash in the pan.
"This is becoming more of a social phenomenon than a game," writes Jason Evangelho in Forbes. He predicts that the game isn't going anywhere any time soon.
* The amazing speed with which Pokémon Go took hold illustrates the point that parents need to talk with kids about online behavior generally, and not have app by app rules.
It's not possible to stay on top of all apps and games all the time. But making it clear to kids what expectations you have for their behavior online generally, the importance of privacy settings, in-app spending, and more, regardless of the specific app, is important.
You can find all posts about kids, online safety, and what parents need to know here.
Please like Between Us Parents on Facebook.
If you would like to get emails of Between Us Parents posts, please type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.