In the past week, the augmented reality (AR) game Pokémon Go has exploded in popularity. It raised Nintendo’s stock by $9 billion, greatly improved the standing of AR games and has been used as the catalyst for a number of eccentric news stories.
However, much to the surprise of millions of users, the developer Niantic is collecting vast scores of personal information from devices. Like most GPS apps, Pokémon Go tracks all data related to your movement. Unlike apps such as Foursquare and Tinder, Pokémon Go may collect — among other things — your email address, IP address, the web page you were using before logging into Pokémon Go, your username and your location.
Additionally, for those who opted to log in with a Google account on an iOS device, Niantic (or anyone who hacked them) has access to their Google accounts, including reading and sending emails. It may also share this information with other parties, including the Pokémon Company that co-developed the game, “third-party service providers,” and “third parties” in order to conduct “research and analysis, demographic profiling and other similar purposes.”
While other GPS apps do much of the same thing, this app is especially detailed and granular in its data collection. The developer, Niantic, originated from the geospatial data visualization startup Keyhole, Inc., which Google acquired in 2004 and played a pivotal role in the development of Google Maps and Google Earth.
Niantic spun out of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, last year, but still has heavy investments from Google and Nintendo. W Niantic was still under Alphabet when it developed its previous game, Ingress. In fact, Ingress is much of the base for Pokémon Go, with the same geotagged locations.
Fortunately, Niantic has released a patch to the game that corrected the iOS problem of giving access to one’s Google account. Following the plethora of crime-related stories, the police have shown an interest in Pokémon Go. Niantic is carrying on its parent company’s culture of compliance with the police.