Since its release on July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go has unofficially become the most successful mobile app to date. Generating over 2 million dollars in revenue per day, it already has more daily users than Twitter, and the highest average time spent per day– more than WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat. But that level of success does not come without data challenges.
Pokémon Go is a free, location based augmented mobile reality game developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company. To play the game, a user downloads the app, creates an account, logs in, and based on their physical location the app alerts the user to nearby Pokémon available for capture. The app accesses a user’s camera and GPS to allow a player to capture and battle Pokémon in virtual reality.
It was not long after its release that Pokémon Go was caught up in its first data privacy problem. By downloading the app, Pokémon Go users had given the app full access to their personal Google account, meaning the app was granted access to see and modify Google user account information, including everything stored in Google Drive.
When this error came to light, just six days after the app was released, the Pokémon Company and Niantic released a joint statement that the app “erroneously request[ed] full access permission for the user’s Google account.” The statement went on to say that the app “only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and e-mail address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected.”
While there are no official investigations into the app’s data policies, given the Federal Trade Commission’s interest in mobile privacy, location tracking and consumer protection, it is likely the agency will be keeping a close eye on the app to ensure Pokémon Go has followed appropriate consumer protection measures. There is also an opportunity for the Federal Communication Commission to get involved. Using Pokémon Go can quickly consume a user’s data plan. In response to that concern, telecommunication carriers are already considering a new kind of data plan – offering customers unlimited, or free data plans for a period time while using Pokémon Go. The practice of not charging a customer for specific data is known as zero-rating. The FCC’s net neutrality rules prevent access providers from prioritizing content but they do not ban zero-rating policies. Zero-rating is not new to telecommunications, but its application to Pokémon Go comes at an interesting time because of its similarity to net neutrality.
Despite the questions surrounding the app’s data policies, there is no obvious damage to Pokémon Go’s success. Within a week of release Pokémon Go faced, and arguably recovered from, its first major privacy data problem. But that is just the beginning for Pokémon Go. Internet hackers have already targeted the app as a potential target, claiming to have shut down the app for a period of time on July 16th and July 17th. Nevertheless, nothing seems to be slowing down the growth of Pokémon Go, which has caught the attention of millions of users worldwide and a few lawmakers as well.