Pokémon Go, the latest edition in the Pokémon game series, has generated a lot of buzz since its release on 6 July 2016. This is not a cyber security game for students. The augmented reality game, a mix of real world and virtual reality, is the fastest app to ever reach the number one spot for iOS and Android downloads. The app works by locating the gamer in reality through the phone’s GPS and clock, and placing Pokémon in the general vicinity, which the gamer can view and catch using the phone’s camera. Upon download, the app also has access to the user’s email address and user name, but does not have access to the user’s entire email account or the ability to send and read emails, though many users had this concern. In many ways, Pokémon Go is based off of Ingress, an augmented reality game from Google that launched in 2012, which also used the gamer’s location, camera, and some personal information in order to play the game, concerning people then as it does now. The game’s popularity is one that rivals Twitter in the number of daily users and sent Nintendo’s stock prices blasting off like Team Rocket; however, it is becoming hazardous for users and others around them.
Though the game continues to grow in popularity, sending people to places in their own city that they would have never gone before and allowing gamers to meet new people, which is not inherently a bad thing, it may lead to dangerous situations.  The game is also sending people into busy streets and off of cliffs because users are not paying attention to their surroundings. Additionally, Pokémon are appearing in dangerous areas or on private property where trespassers are highly unwelcomed. These places include electrical substations, nuclear power plants, military facilities, and police stations around the world.
From a security standpoint, this is concerning as the general public wanders near highly sensitive facilities while using camera-enabled smartphones. Due to Pokémon appearing in their “natural habitat”, gamers assume that electrical Pokémon will appear at substations, resulting in an influx of trespassers and possibly opportunists at substations, increasing vulnerabilities to the power grid. This has led to notices from multiple electrical companies, warning of the dangers substations and utility poles pose to the health and safety of gamers.
Furthermore, businesses, such as Boeing are banning the game on their premises due to safety hazards, citing an employee who was nearly injured while playing the game at work, though the company did not specify how. Some national institutions, such as the National Holocaust Museum and Arlington National Cemetery are requesting that visitors not play the game while on site out of respect for the dead and their mourning families. Other businesses and places of mourning are likely to take similar actions; however, some restaurants and shops are taking advantage of the influx in customers visiting near their place of business due to the game.
There is no one correct way of dealing with Pokémon Go from a business or safety perspective. Businesses are entitled to deal with the situation as they see fit, and while some will block the game, others will sponsor it to generate revenue, such as McDonald’s in Japan, which paid to be Pokéstops and Pokémon Gyms, both important to Pokémon Go users. Trespassing is a real concern for individuals and businesses alike, but law enforcement is imploring people to call the police and not engage with any suspicious individuals.
Pokémon Go is the most recent craze of 2016 and will likely remain as such for the next few months as students start to go back to school for the fall semester. Additionally, it has changed the way people play video games and how marketers use that to develop a brand. Augmented reality gaming will likely be the next big thing in video gaming given its success, business opportunities, and recent upsurge; however, this app is already directly and indirectly responsible for multiple injuries along with both real and perceived criminal activity. The app is taking users to multiple locations, whether the user has authorized access or not. The game is new and will likely change after feedback from gamers and innocent bystanders, but for now, gamers, be safe. Remember what Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” because that ‘it’ could be a car, the edge of a cliff, or a no trespassing sign, and missing those can have serious consequences.
This post was written by: Daniel Israeli