Privacy in the Age of Pokemon Go!

So not only is Pokemon go the biggest craze ever (seemingly anyway), it also seems to be the most written about topic ever. Everywhere you turn there is another article on helping players catch ‘em all or where to find the closest PokeStop. And chances are you have come across forums dedicated to answering the most burning questions on the minds of otherwise responsible adults, looking for the best tips, tricks and hacks to become the world’s best Pokemon trainer. More recently we have seen articles bemoaning the updates and lost features that players were oh-so used to, and CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.

Welcome to the Age of Pokemon Go!

Let’s also not forget about all the press surrounding the truly stupid things people have done in search of Pikachu and his buddies – like the guy who drove into a parked police car or the kids who wandered over the US/Canadian border in their hot pursuit. Then there was the issue regarding malware placed in fake Pokemon Go! apps. Oh, the fun never ends in the Age of Pokemon Go!.

But another, just slightly more pressing Pokemon-related topic getting press is that of privacy. Just the mere mention of Pokemon Go! and privacy in the same sentence makes people look at you as if you’re a giant raincloud threatening to ruin an otherwise perfectly beautiful day. With acid rain. And some toxic waste mixed in. And you just took everybody’s umbrellas away. Instant unpopularity guaranteed.

They know what you are about to say and they don’t want to hear it.

They know you want to tell them that apps can easily collect data if you aren’t careful about which ones you choose. They know you want to remind them that some apps contain gaping security vulnerabilities that allow your data to be spilled all over the Internet and right into the hands of hackers, and some even contain straight-up malware. They know you want to say that they might be signing their privacy away by not reading Terms of Service and all privacy statements of all software and apps. (To their credit though, it would only take a measly 76 days to read them all, according to the Huffington Post.) And that some of our most favorite online services like Facebook, Instagram and Google have Terms of Service that sign away all vestiges of your information.

That Mark Zuckerberg says he “believes the age of privacy is ‘over,’ and that norms have evolved considerably since he first co-founded the social networking site” and that Facebook must “be innovating and updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.” That enabling location services, like one would have to do in order to play Pokemon Go!, makes you completely traceable – to anyone, even those with less-than pure intentions. That all collected data is, in the best case scenario, passed along to companies to market to you in ways you could never imagine, and in worst case scenario, can be easily breached by hackers and sold on the dark web to commit crimes of identity fraud.

Perhaps you’re planning on reminding them that Google and Facebook know more about ourselves and our habits than we do because they spend millions and millions of dollars making sense out of those habits – so they can market effectively. That Google, through its DoubleClick ad network, tracks us and our internet usage across the web and that Niantic, makers of Pokemon Go!, itself is a spinoff of …wait for it, wait for it.…Google!

Yes, you really want to tell them all this.

But to them, your fact-based rant ranks up there with the “Elvis lives”, “Roswell is real” and “Kennedy was killed by Jackie O and the illuminati” theories. You’re just a modern day Chicken Little, you just can’t keep up with changing times. So you shake your head a bit and cluck your tongue (hey, maybe you really are at least related to Chicken Little) as they download more vulnerable apps, leap over those sweeping TOS, announce their next vacation on Facebook and use apps like Pokemon Go!, blissfully unaware of what they very well might be sacrificing.

Perhaps they do care, even just a little -”Is there any point in trying to salvage what’s left of our privacy? Is there even anything to be done about it?” they ask. Well, there is a point in trying to put the brakes on data collection and giving privacy away – because as much as we divulge now, it’s only going to get more pervasive in the future. Pokemon Go! and it’s data collecting tendencies are just the beginning, the very top of the digital information iceberg. And since nobody really cares (aside from you and a few other crackpots, of course), things will continue on their merry trajectory until our right to privacy has eroded entirely.

And at the same time, there are things people can do now to reign-in what’s left of their data:

  • Read all Terms of Service and Privacy Statements on all software and apps downloaded and understand what the ramifications of each one are.
  • Consider using a browser that doesn’t collect data such as Ixquick or Duck Duck Go.
  • Use an ad blocking program such as AdBlock or AdBlock Plus for your devices.
  • When using social media, don’t include real birthdates, phone numbers or schools attended.
  • Make sure your computer is safe from intrusive and harmful malware with a solid anti-malware solution like RCS.
  • Review social media TOS and privacy settings regularly as they change very often, resetting them back to their standard “give us all your info” setting, by design.

Sure, it might seem like simply using the Internet nowadays means having to kiss privacy and the integrity of data bye-bye, but with some relatively easy-to-implement measures, a whole lot of the the most pervasive privacy issues can be mitigated to some degree. So, Chicken Little, privacy freak or whatever they might call you, we applaud you for your stance. And guess what – One day, even your “I don’t give a darn about my info” friends will probably end up seeing the light.

If they ever take their heads out from their Pokemon Go! game, that is.

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