No-go for Pokemon Go: The Jakarta Post editorial

A person plays with Pokemon Go on his mobile phone at a park in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, on July 20, 2016.
A person plays with Pokemon Go on his mobile phone at a park in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, on July 20, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on July 21, the paper says the virtual game raises security concerns and should be monitored for its consequences.

Beyond the obvious risks of being hit by a car, falling into a ravine, being shot at for trespassing or the wholesale detachment from the real, physical world, there’s a clear and present danger that comes from playing the wildly popular new augmented-reality game, Pokemon Go. 

Your kids, or anyone who plays the game, may not be aware that once they have signed up for the game, before they can prowl around the city looking for virtual monsters, catch them with Poke Balls and train them at so-called “gyms”, they have surrendered some of their personal information to the internet Big Brother. 

To play Pokemon Go, players can choose to sign in through Google — which used to own the game’s developer Niantic Labs — or through the website Pokemon Trainer Club, which is currently suspended. And this is when the problem begins.

 Many have expressed concerns that the game requires full access to your Google account when you sign in, meaning that although the internet search engine giant does not have access to people’s passwords or payment information, it can read your emails, see what you have been searching for and a whole host of other online activities.

But even if you’re not troubled by a third party eavesdropping on your private online conversations—after all we generously share the minute details of our daily lives on social media — there are other things that should give you pause before joining the merry band of Pokemon Go players.

The game uses Google Maps and players’ real-world GPS location to direct them to Pokemon. This should really scare people off because the consequences from misuse of such information are real. 

There are already reports of robbers using the game to lure victims by activating “lure modules”, which players can use to attract both Pokemon and other players to their location. This may sound alarmist, but the world out there is already a dangerous place for our kids with the presence of child molesters and rapists lurking on every corner and Pokemon Go could make it more dangerous for our children.

And then there’s the bigger question; what if Pokemon Go poses a threat to security, in the traditional, global-politics sense of the word. 

The version of the app that gamers use in Indonesia is an unofficial version with an artificial map based on countries where the game is available but it has apparently already spooked the Indonesian Military (TNI) to the point where the Navy has issued an order banning personnel and members of their families from playing the game. 

On Monday, the TNI took no chances and arrested a French man who trespassed onto a military base in Cirebon, West Java, while playing Pokemon Go. In China, a conspiracy theory has emerged, surmising that Japan and the United States are collaborating via Pokemon Go to work out where Chinese military bases are. 

We should not lend credence to such paranoia, but given the above mentioned risks, we should proceed to use Pokemon Go with caution.

The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.