Pokémon Go is here, and parents should study up
Pokémon Go is pretty much everywhere lately and it has a lot of parents scratching their heads. What is it, exactly? Will it cost me money? What the hell is a Pidgey and why do my kids want one so badly? Well, we get your frustration and cluelessness, so we put together a few points about Pokémon and what you should know about the game literally no one can shut up about.
First of all, a little Pokémon background. When you were a kid, you probably either played it or knew kids that did. It was a huge craze in the 1990s and early 2000s, with Pikachu, the game’s main character, appearing pretty much everywhere. But back then, it was mostly about the popular trading cards. Now, it’s a lot more high-level.
The Pokémon Go app is here; a free-to-download, location-based, augmented reality mobile game that’s swept the nation since its release earlier this month. It’s entrancing not only kids, but grown-ups who played the game when they were younger. As we saw last week when a dad was caught catching a Pokémon while his wife waited to be rolled in for her c-section — this game is definitely not just for children.
But the fact is, tons of kids are playing it and parents need to know what’s up before all their data is spent and their kids are possibly in danger. That might sound dramatic, but there are some concerns with this app that aren’t present with other games aimed at kids. First of all, location, location location.
Yes, your location has to be turned on to play, because you have to know where to catch the stupid little things. That means Google has full access to a user’s account and data since the user logs in using a Google account. There is a fix for this now, but it’s still smart to be aware and check out your Google accounts to see what information has been given up to the app if you’ve already downloaded and used it. According to Market Watch, Adam Reeve, the principal architect for the security company RedOwl wrote:
“Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”
2. The ‘Lure’ Option
That aside, there’s still the issue of kids being told to go to specific locations in their area to find characters to catch, and that means adults could figure out where those places are too — for reasons having nothing to do with the game. A nanny tweeted about this concern, and it’s worth talking to your kids about this potential danger.
Update: I’ve gone to Pokelures two more times since then with this same kid and am starting to get to know him. Creeps could do the same. :/
— Robin (@caulkthewagon) July 11, 2016
A “lure” is something other users can see on the app alerting them to come to that location to catch more Pokemon. They can be purchased for only $1 as an in-app purchase and obviously, can be used in a far more nefarious way.
And the dangers aren’t limited to child predators. A group of armed robbers lured eight players to a location in Missouri using a “Pokestop.” The O’Fallon, MO police issue a warning after that incident saying, “Many of you have heard of Pokémon Go, but for those who have not, it is a type of Geo Caching game where you find and capture Pokémon characters at various locations. If you use this app (or other similar apps) or have children that do we ask you to please use caution when alerting strangers of your future location.”
3. Data Suck
And then there’s the monetary concerns. According to Vox, Pokémon Go “requires your phone to be constantly checking and transmitting your location via GPS, which is a data-heavy endeavor. And the very nature of the game — namely, the impetus to get outdoors and keep moving — means that more often than not, you’ll be using a cellular connection rather than a wifi connection.”
Basically, this game uses up shitloads of data. Be aware of how much data your plan allows and monitor your child carefully if they aren’t connected to wifi while playing. Most plans allow you to sign up for data alerts that send a text to your phone when your account is approaching its limit. Otherwise, you could have a very expensive surprise when your bill comes.
4. In-App Purchases
That brings us to the issue of in-app purchases, which can be easily remedied by turning on parental controls to prevent access. This may seem obvious to most parents, but I’ve been on the receiving end of enough “Holy shit, my kid just spent $386 on the Bubble Guppies app, what the fuck do I do now?” texts to know that not everyone thinks of it. So there. I thought of it for you. Now turn those little wallet-savers on.
5. It’s Seriously Distracting
Then, there’s the distraction factor, which has been a thing since the dawn of smartphones. According to the National Safety Council, 11,000 people have been injured in the last decade due to “distracted walking,” aka, staring at a phone and then tripping or falling or being hit by a car. So this is not a new danger, but Pokémon seems to be very addicting and could certainly cause those types of injuries to happen.
In fact, that’s how another robbery went down in Parkville, MD this week. The suspects approached three people playing the game and used a handgun to take their cell phones and money. Of course, as the police spokesperson suggests, it could’ve happened either way, but the fact that the victims were all glued to their phones hunting down Pokémon definitely didn’t help matters much.
While there are a lot of positives with the app, such as kids wanting to actually go outside and walk around hunting for the little critters. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but as with all things parenting, it’s best to be informed so your kids can have fun safely.