A FRIEND OF MINE is playing Pokémon Go. He has named his Pokémon 'Norman' because that was the name of his first Pokémon when he played it on Game Boy before mobile phones, financial crises and Brexits.
My friend is the first to admit that he's fallen for Nintendo’s use of millennial phone addiction and nostalgia for simpler times with the phenomenal launch of Pokémon Go.
This nostalgia is powerful: stats show that 11 per cent of Android users in the US had installed Pokémon Go by 11 July. It was installed on 3.4 per cent of Android devices in the UK before it was even officially available and had to be sideloaded. The app was downloaded more in its first three days than Tinder has been downloaded in its entire existence.
That's not to say there haven't been hitches. Android users signing in with Google accounts initially gave game developer Niantic Labs access to Gmail and Documents.
Niantic patched the problem, which was probably the result of carelessness. My friend, an IT and security journalist, is aware of these problems, but it hasn’t stopped him, or millions of others I suspect, downloading and playing the game.
There's a much broader privacy concern, however, of which Pokémon Go is emblematic. The game reveals the extent to which we have become so used to being constantly mined for our data that we no longer really care. In fact, we'll exchange private data for not very much benefit to ourselves at all.
Niantic's privacy documentation makes it clear that the app collects user data, including age, location and photos, and shares it with unidentified third parties, and most players are fine with this.
Of course, we are all used to it by now. It's no more than Twitter or Facebook or Foursquare do, but then these apps aren’t considered harbingers of widespread augmented reality, and we view them with increasing suspicion.
Privacy used to be considered so important that it's written into human rights law. And we give it up quite happily for, what exactly? Pokémon Go is fun, sure, but it’s also buggy and obviously unfinished.
There isn’t much yet by way of incentive to keep playing, and I can see myself getting discouraged by having to play continuously to maintain my place in the game. Those Pokeballs, potions and revives don’t find themselves, so I’ll fall behind unless I spend most of my walk between office and tube cashing in.
Apparently, it's good because it makes people go outside and talk to other people. If you only leave home because a slightly shitty app told you to, you have bigger problems than any mobile game can fix.
It’s not news that Niantic collects and shares user data. And this is the point: Pokémon Go’s privacy nightmare shows us that we are not learning and that we are still happy to compromise our privacy for the sake of a fleeting and substandard experience of ersatz adventure. µ
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