The effect Pokémon Go could have on consumer privacy was overhyped, but people are still worried about the game’s collection of personal information.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center has asked the FTC to investigate Pokémon Go developer Niantic over its “ongoing data collection practices, a similar episode involving Google Street View and the Niantic CEO, as well as Niantic’s ongoing relationship with Google” so consumers know exactly how their data is used.
EPIC’s complaint follows claims that Pokémon Go was “malware” and a “huge security risk” because the game had full access to its players’ Google accounts. Niantic apologized for the error and released an update to fix the mistake.
Much of the hullabaloo over Pokémon Go was unwarranted — it couldn’t access emails, files, or other private data. So why is EPIC worried about a game trusted by 75 million people from all around the world?
It all comes back to Niantic’s start at Google. Niantic chief executive John Hanke previously founded a company that formed the backbone of Google Earth and Google Street View. That, EPIC says, is a problem. Both of Google’s mapping services caused privacy concerns when they were released, as users feared they collected and retained personal data without the knowledge or consent of many people affected by the program.
“History suggests Niantic will continue to disregard consumer privacy and security, which increases the need for close FTC scrutiny as Niantic’s popularity – and trove of sensitive user data – continues to grow,” EPIC writes. “Moreover, given the prior history of Google Street View, there is little reason to trust the assurance regarding the current state of Niantic’s data collection practices.”
Pokémon Go will probably never escape these concerns. Niantic can’t change the fact that it was spun out of Google, or that its game relies on the use of location data and encourages players to give it access to their phone’s cameras. For as long as the game remains popular — and it shows no signs of slowing its growth — privacy activists will be concerned about how it handles user data.
EPIC’s full letter to the FTC is below.