is Pokémon Go secure? | Some tips for staying safe on Pokémon Go

Remember the summer of 2016? It almost feels like a fever dream! Pokémon Go was in its heyday, and droves of us took to the great outdoors to hunt down Pokémon, trade them, and battle it out at gyms. In fact, the AR game was such a smash that it made a whopping $206.5 million in the first four weeks of its release.

Fast forward to 2021, and obsession isn't quite what it was, but that doesn't mean that nobody's playing. As of May 2021, there were an estimated 72,301,145 monthly players. Somehow, against the odds, Pokémon Go thrived during a pandemic that kept players indoors.

So, the time is ripe to revisit the app and ask one important question – is Pokémon Go privacy-friendly?

 

🎁Are Pokémon Go gifts a privacy concern?

On June 11, 2021, to prepare for this year's Go Fest, Pokémon Go rolled out an update – and it has not been well received. From glitches and bugs to epilepsy risks, fan feedback has been overwhelmingly negative.

And it isn't the first time that an update has caused a commotion. Let's roll back the clock to June 2018, when the 0.111.x update arrived. It brought with it a number of changes, but the most divisive of these concerned the game's gifts. In Pokémon Go, gifts are looted from Pokéstops, but the player who finds them can't keep the gifts for themselves. Instead, they're to be given to other players.

Before the updates, any gifts would show their recipient a picture of the Pokéstop where they were found. Clicking on the image displayed some more information about the Pokéstop's location in the state or city, but nothing too specific. Following the June update, however, players could see the exact location of these Pokéstops via a map link.

Now, obviously, someone with some time on their hands could've found out the location of a Pokéstop even before the update, armed with just the generic city or state information. The update brought with it the concern that the specificity of Pokéstop data could be used to determine player's homes and habits. This sort of info could then be utilized by a stalker, perhaps, or a fellow player with a grudge.

numerous fans were upset. Others claimed they were less concerned because gifts can only actually be sent to players on your friends list, and friends have to be approved or added manually. Therefore, gifts – and the location information contained in them – should only be entrusted to folks you'd trust enough to add to your circle.

Still, the risk of a bad actor taking advantage of Pokéstop location data remains. I'd recommend vetting the people you add to your friend list – particularly if you don't know them too well, or if they're a total stranger. Basically, don't add or accept anyone who you wouldn't trust with the whereabouts of your most frequented Pokéstops.

Bear in mind that you can pick and choose which gifts to send, and therefore avoid sending gifts that come from Pokéstops on your doorstep. Perhaps you passed a few Pokéstops when on a walk one day, or collected some gifts whilst on holiday – these could all be better, vaguer, options.

🔒Staying safe in 2021

Catching Pokémon is fun and all, but the app isn't free of security concerns – some larger than others. Fortunately, a lot of these concerns can be allayed with a little know-how and preparation.

  1. Stick to official sources – make sure you're downloading Pokémon Go from the Apple AppStore or the Google PlayStore, and don't get suckered into installing bogus or malicious duplicates from elsewhere on the web. These fakes can cause havoc; locking your phone, flooding it with ads or adult content, and generally being a nuisance to remove.
  2. Be aware of item scams – just like other mobile games that offer in-game items, you might come across scams offering free goods, cheats, or exploits. More often than not, these links will take you to surveys that don't actually reward you with anything, or sham websites designed to capture your login info.
  3. Keep your passwords strong – if you're using your Google or Apple account to log in to Pokémon Go, then this is especially important! Don't use any personal details in your passwords, do throw in some symbols and numbers, and make sure you use a unique password with all your accounts and apps. (Password managers come in handy if you need help to remember them all!)
  4. Don't share your login – it's a no-brainer; your credentials shouldn't be entrusted to any old stranger. However, you'll want to be wary of giving your username and login with friends and family, too. You never know when someone might click something they shouldn't, share info where they shouldn't, or accidentally happen across your social media accounts.
  5. Check out two-factor authentication – you should use 2FA whenever you can! Basically, it makes your account much harder to breach by hackers. 2FA requires you to input a code (usually texted to you), in addition to your username and password, before you access your account. So, even if a hacker has your password, it'll be useless to them without the 2FA verification code!

Real-life risks

Pokémon Go is an AR game, which means you'll spend just as much time wandering about in real life as you will looking at your phone screen. For this reason, there are a couple of not-so-techy safety precautions to be aware of!

For a start, keep an eye on where you're headed if you're venturing outdoors, and don't go anywhere that looks dangerous or feels unsafe. You also shouldn't use Pokémon Go whilst you're biking or skating, and gaming whilst you drive is totally out of the question.

 

🎣Does Pokémon Go collect my information?

The short answer is yes, and Niantic, Pokémon Go's parent company, actually explains as much themselves:

Niantic collects information in order to operate the game and to optimize and improve our products and services. Niantic does not sell any adult's or child's user information to third parties.

There's also no getting around the fact that Pokémon Go uses GPS to track your location. In addition to this information, and the GPS technology, Pokémon Go can also gather information about your email address, IP address, browsing history, and more – all of this has been outlined in a thorough Kotaku investigation.

In fact, if you play Pokémon Go frequently enough, you'll end up building a detailed virtual map of your movements. This map can be used to decipher a lot of information about you and your habits! Put it this way, if you like to catch a few Pokémon on your commute to work, the game will be able to see the route you take every day... as well as any deviations from that path, which can be equally informative.

Whether this amount of data collection is massively invasive or par for the course will depend on your personal danger model. However, Niantic has made it clear that players can request that their data be erased.

📝Can you report other Pokémon Go players?

Absolutely! There's often very little need to report players, however, seeing as most of the game's interaction features are pretty limited. Still, if you come across someone with an unpleasant username, using mods or exploits, or trying to sell items, you can take the following steps to inform Niantic:

  1. From the Pokémon Go app, select the Main Menu via the Map.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. At the bottom of this menu, you'll see an option to Get Support – tap that.
  4. Select Contact us, and describe the issue in the space provided.
  5. Once you're done, tap Report a Player.

💭Final thoughts

It might be 2021, but Pokémon Go is very much still alive and kicking! The game has adapted to the pandemic via numerous adjustments, allowing players to collect and trade Pokémon without leaving the house – though a number of these changes have since been rolled back. New community events are frequently on the horizon, too, so it's never too late to begin your adventure... or hop back into the action.

It is important to ask yourself if you're comfortable with Pokémon Go's GPS tracking and data collection, however. Are you comfortable with your friends knowing exactly where you pick up your gifts? Do you want there to be a living, digital map of your explorations? All in all, I think most Pokémon Go players can still enjoy the game so long as they curate their friends list, use strong passwords, and enable 2FA wherever possible.

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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