Pokémon GO tracking the tracker


Chico State student plays Pokemon Go. Photo credit: Carly Plemons

A vast crowd comes over the distant plane to an empty parking lot. They gather around a formerly poorly lit parking lot, now bright with the light of hundreds of phones in the search for a rare Pokémon.

It may seem like a slight stretch to assume that so many would gather for one Pokémon (depending on its rarity), but there are still plenty of devoted Pokémon players who not only spend hours playing this game, but even move around to play it.

Since it’s a location based game, it will collect certain data such as your phone’s ID and location at a particular time, which is then used to help you play the game.

Of course, once this data is gathered, it is not deleted. If you catch a Pokémon, you want the record that you actually caught it. However, most of the data that is stored by Niantic Labs, the owners of the game Pokémon GO, is more personal data.

As defined in the privacy agreement, what you do is on the app and account information, but more significantly, the “when” and “where” is stored. This information is a “business asset” to Niantic Labs and can be shared by them.

As stated in their privacy policy, this information can be given for research, sold in a merger to someone else, or even given to law enforcement or any other government organization.

There is value in this data when collected in aggregate. The distance people are willing to travel for certain Pokémon creates great marketing opportunities, especially for businesses willing to pay to have Pokémon near them.

There is also an opportunity to send location based advertisements to people who are hunting Pokémon in certain areas. One of the keys to making money on many free apps like Twitter has been this model of specialized advertising.

But not everything the data is used for necessarily precludes profit. A government request, whether or not there is a warrant, may be enough to persuade to hand over whatever data they may have on you. Niantic Labs may or may not agree to do so, however, it is a reminder that Apple and other operators are not the only stop for your data.

Comment below and tell us your thoughts on Pokémon Go.

Thomas Staaden can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.