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Crazy conspiracy theory: What if Pokemon Go was used for massive spying operations?

Published Jul 12th, 2016 1:34PM EDT
Pokemon Go Location Camera Privacy
Image: YouTube

A report recently revealed that Pokemon Go has a lot more access to your Google account than you might want, but this is apparently a bug that’s going to be ironed out in a future update. That may sound a lot more troubling than it is, and it’s likely that neither Nintendo nor Niantic want to access your email. But what if Pokemon Go, or any mobile game that becomes viral overnight, was hacked by intelligence agencies to conduct massive surveillance operations on unsuspecting citizens?

It might sound all like a crazy conspiracy theory but think about it. You’re trusting a bunch of companies with data including your location and access to your cameras so you can play a game.

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The game does need access to location data for you to be able to hunt Pikachu and all his friends. It also needs access to the camera so it can show the Pokemon on your screen and let you experience augmented reality (AR) in a fun way. But that’s enough for an intelligence agency to tap into the servers of a company with a game just went viral in a Pokemon Go kind of way to dig up data about users.

It’s very likely that most Pokemon Go players do not represent potential targets of intelligence agencies. But that might not stop these agencies from collecting a treasure trove of data. Again, there’s no indication that Pokemon Go is spying on you with your consent, so don’t freak out. But Gawker does explore the implications that viral mobile apps may have on your privacy.

In a half-humorous tone, Gawker points out that Pokemon Go’s terms of service do include wording that sounds very troubling: “We may disclose any information about you (or your authorized child) that is in our possession or control to government or law enforcement officials or private parties,” one section reads.

Gawker also established a link between Pokemon Go and the intelligence community. Pokemon Go is created by Niantic, which was founded by John Hanke, the same person who helped found Keyhole. That company was acquired by Google in 2004 and was responsible for technology that preceded products like Google Earth. But Keyhole was also funded by a government-controlled venture capital firm that may be linked to intelligence operations. That’s “the CIA’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel,” as Wikipedia describes it.

The report also indicates that the data Pokemon Go collects can be easily used to find out where you are, where you’ve been, who you’re hanging out with and where you might be heading next.

One Reddit user also figured out one clever way of using a camera: “[Enter] Pokemon GO, where if you are an intel agency, and you want photos of the inside of a home or business, you just spawn desirable Pokemon or related objects there, and let totally unaware and distracted citizens take the photos for you, with devices they paid for, and those citizens pay for the experience,” the person wrote.

He continued, “Imagine all these photos going back to some database (with the augmented Pokemon removed obviously. All these photos are probably GPS tagged, as well as having the phones internal gyro embed x/y/z orientation of the camera angle in the phone. these photos could be put together, much like Google Street View.”

Then again, this is just a conspiracy theory. Pokemon Go is just a game, and should be treated accordingly. Not to mention that it’s likely some of the smarter players out there will study the app, precisely to discover issues like these and report any troubling findings.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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