Pokémon Go, a new virtual reality game created by Niantic Labs, was released last month in more than 35 countries around the world. The mobile application uses GPS location to interact with the user, who can locate, catch, battle and trade animated creatures as they appear in real-world locations. The mobile application builds off the popular franchise Pokémon, which launched as a trading card game in 1995 and has grown to include video games, a TV show, movies, merchandise and more. As Pokémon Go’s user base expands, concern for potential safety and privacy breaches have escalated as reports surface covering trespassing, robbery and even distracted driving.
Players waive their legal rights by agreeing to Pokémon Go’s terms of service, which include warnings advising players to be aware of their surroundings and prevent operating a vehicle while using the application. The fine print also forbids players from entering private property without permission, protecting Niantic for being held liable for any property damage, injuries or deaths that result while the game is in use. Since PokéStops can appear on both public and private property, the game raises various security and public safety concerns. However, these warnings have not stopped a number of game users wandering onto private property without consent. Legally, a player’s actions are his or her own responsibility, not those of Niantic Labs or Pokémon. The game does not protect trespassers from legal consequences, nor does it protect against fearful property owners practicing self-defense. Fortunately, in court, the intention behind trespassing is taken into account during sentencing, but will not dismiss a civil case completely.
Pokémon Go uses a custom version of Google Maps to create the digital playing field and determine the location of creatures and places to visit. The game relies on players’ suggestions to identify places to designate as PokéStops, selected from a pool of about five million locations previously vetted for an earlier augmented-reality game called “Ingress”. Because it is difficult to update mapping technology in real time, the game does not warn players if a PokéStop is located in an area with a high crime rate or dangerous property. Although the game does not automatically share your personal location with other players, one feature involves setting up a “lure,” which alerts other players to come to a location to catch more Pokémon. Similarly, Pokémon “gyms” in real-life places are another danger, since potential predators could take notice if players visit the same locations repeatedly or even lure gamers to a specific location.
Additionally, sources reported that users should be aware of personal information, which can potentially be shared through the app. Since the app allows you to log-in via your Google account, users may unknowingly give permission for the app to have access to information on their Google account, including Gmail. The Pokémon Company and Niantic state that Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information, and are taking steps to ensure no other personal information is released.
Take this information into consideration and know the risks associated with playing Pokémon Go. If you find yourself in a legal situation because of Pokémon Go, the attorneys of Bannister, Wyatt and Stalvey would be happy to assist you. Call us today for a free consultation.