BBB warning: Enjoy Pokémon GO with caution

Pokemon Go (KSN Photo)

Pokémon GO has become the most downloaded phone app in the U.S. The app, which uses mapping software to create a virtual reality game, is getting children and adults out and about in their neighborhoods to “catch” the game characters as they pop up on phone screens from various locations.

Although the game can be a blast, the Better Business Bureau is warning players and parents to be aware of some nuances that go with GO.

Expenses: It’s possible to play completely cost-free by winning “PokeCoins” (the app’s currency) through gameplay, but you can also purchase the coins through an in-app purchase. The longer you play, the more spending money you need to store to “train” your gathered characters. The app also requires constant GPS access, and it uses a lot of data. After playing for hours every day, consumers with limited data plans may find themselves with a hefty bill at the end of the month.

Privacy: In order to play the game, users must allow the app to access other applications, such as maps and camera. Many users sign in with a Google account, and that has caused some concerns about privacy. The Android version of the game only accesses limited data (such as the user’s email address), but the iOS version for the iPhone can access all Google data. Niantic, the game’s maker, says no personal information has been accessed, and it is issuing a bug fix to correct the problem.

Niantic’s website states, “We recently discovered that the Pokémon GO account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon GO only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. 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.” Users can create an account through the app itself rather than using an email address to access the game.

Malware: So far, the app is only available in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which has given cybercriminals an opportunity to capitalize on the demand. A malware version of the game has been found online; although no known infections have been reported. Users should only download the app through official app stores, not third-party sites.

Safety: Players should use the same safety precautions while playing the game that they would in any other outdoor setting, including caution in strange locations. A Missouri police department reported robbers using a secluded “PokeStop” location to rob unsuspecting game players. Players should be cautious as pedestrians and obey all traffic laws, and drivers should be on the lookout for children who may be distracted by the game. The app also drains phone batteries, so users should be careful not to get stranded far from home.

Infringement: PokeStops are supposed to all be on public property (or cooperative private sites), but at least one homeowner has reported that his historic house is mistakenly a PokeStop. Players should be respectful of others’ private property. Future commercial opportunities are anticipated, where stores can offer rare or unique characters to add to the game.

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