Commentary

Pokemon Go's Success Marred By Privacy Gaffes

Judging by the numbers, the startling success of Pokémon Go marks a major turning point for mobile gaming. With augmented reality and geo-location technology having sufficiently matured, mobile games are ready to redefine entertainment as we know it.

Right?

Well, threatening to dim mobile gaming’s big moment, Pokémon Go maker Niantic Labs is facing criticism for collecting a ton of user data, including physical movements, email addresses, and select Web browsing history.

Most troubling, it was discovered this week that, for iOS users, the Pokémon GO account creation process was requesting full access to their Google accounts.

As such, millions of users unwittingly gave Niantic Labs permission to read their email; send emails in their name; access their Google drive documents; view their search history and Maps navigation history; and access private photos users have stored in Google Photos.

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Now, Niantic -- which spun off from Alphabet late last year (even though Google’s parent company remains a major investor) -- is saying this was all a big mistake.

“We recently discovered that the Pokémon GO account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account,” Niantic  said in a statement.

“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.”

As it stands, Pokémon GO only accesses basic Google profile information, including specifically User ID’s and email addresses, Niantic promises.

“Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon GO or Niantic,” the statement notes. “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.”

As yet, there is no indication that this issue has tempered people’s enthusiasm for Pokémon Go. Yet, if game makers don’t act more responsibly, privacy concerns could curb what is clearly the genre’s immense potential.

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