Is Pokémon GO Safe for Kids? A Guide for Parents

If you’re a parent you’re probably already tired of hearing about Pokémon GO, the mobile Augmented Reality video game that has absolutely taken off over the last week.

You’ve probably also heard that it may or not be safe for young users, which in the game are called Trainers. Since Pokémon has for years been a franchise focused on kids, you can guess that lots of kids will want to play. Here’s the rundown the safety claims from the past week, made by safety experts and general media Pokemon Gotypes alike:

The game could steal all your Google data. That appears to be FALSE.

Playing Pokémon GO opens you up to hackers. That appears to be TRUE, but lots of mobile activity is risky.

Pokémon GO has over eager players walking into traffic, revolving doors and trees. TRUE. Be careful out there, kids.

Trainers have been lured unsuspectingly then robbed or mugged. TRUE but the same could be said for most social or messaging apps. Since Pokémon GO makes little of your personal information (no real name or phone number) available for others to see, we’ll give them a pass on this one.

If your kids are already playing Pokémon GO, or are about to start, here are some tips for keeping them safe while playing.

What we thought we’d do this week is take a look at what almost no parents are going to read – the fine print. Here’s what you need to know from the Pokémon GO Terms of Service (TOS) and Privacy Policy (PP).

Note: the TOS and PP are currently offline. We assume it is due to the fact that yesterday Senator Al Franken requested a significant amount of information from the company regarding their data collection and sharing policies.

First of all, the age limit is 13. There is an age gate, and new users are asked to enter their birth date. If your child entered an age under 13, he would have been prompted to get your parental consent. If your child is in fact aged 13 or above, there’s nothing to see here. If he lied about his age and accepted the TOS, according to their rules that means that you have accepted the TOS.  If your child is under 13, Niantic, Google, Nintendo and/or the Pokémon Company are illegally collecting your child’s data. If you are worried about that, you should delete the account.

You can’t sue. Let’s say that your child is injured because something in the game creates and unreasonable risk, or his personal information is compromised. Agreeing to the TOS means that in the event of a dispute, you’ve waived your right to sue Niantic and the other companies involved. Instead, you’ll go to arbitration, and probably lose. The NY Daily News does a good job describing that heavy-handed policy here.

They say the right things about cyberbullying. According to their Trainer Guidelines, “Treat other players and bystanders with respect and courtesy, and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner while playing Pokémon GO.” They go on to say:

“We will review reported or flagged player accounts and content and will determine whether or not they violate the Terms of Use and/or these guidelines. Accounts are penalized for violations of the Terms of Use and/or the Trainer guidelines—we may issue a warning, suspend you from the game, or (for serious or repeated violations) terminate your account.”

If they follow through on that, it seems pretty solid.

Ads are coming. According to an interview with the CEO in the Financial Times, Pokémon GO will soon feature sponsored locations. Even if your child is not paying money for in-game accessories, if he is lured to a merchant location that is a featured Pokémon Gym or Poke Stop, he will probably be spending money to hang out there.

While they aren’t accessing your complete Google profile, email and images, they are collecting personal information. They will collect and may use your child’s IP address, message and locations visited history, age (as stated at signup) and info related to the device your child is using to play the game.

If your child plays the game responsibly, plays with friends if he is young and resists the urge to get lured to a place that looks unsafe or too good to be true, the game looks relatively safe to us. Of course, you can expect some bumps on the shin. For all the potential red flags above, we expect to revisit them if and when issues develop.

 

 

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