By Kevin Samson
The augmented reality resurrection of 1990s’ anime sensation Pokémon continues to set download records even as disturbing consequences of gameplay are exposed.
There is of course the standard tracking that any use of a smartphone will carry with it; but even by those egregious parameters, Pokémon Go takes an extra step toward fully integrating the user (and all of their contacts) into a literal matrix of mapping and surveillance.
Moreover, James Corbett recounts what appears to be a nefarious genesis for the app in his article The CIA’s “Pokémon Go” App is Doing What the Patriot Act Can’t:
The maker of the app? Niantic Labs. Never heard of them? That’s because until last year they were an internal start-up of none other than Google, the NSA-linked Big Brother company. Even now Google remains one of Niantic’s major backers. Niantic was founded by John Hanke, who also founded Keyhole, Inc., the mapping company which was created with seed money from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm, and which was eventually rolled into Google Maps.
This synthesis of location-based data and a company with strategic interests in monetizing that data was recently highlighted by none other than Oliver Stone:
Nobody has ever seen in the history of the world something like [former Niantic owner] Google. It’s the biggest, new, fastest growing business ever.
And they have invested a huge amount of money into, what surveillance is, data mining. They’re data mining every single person in this room for information as to what you’re buying, what you like, above all, your behavior.
So Pokémon Go kicks into that. It’s everywhere. It’s what some people call surveillance capitalism—it’s the newest stage.
What Stone refers to as “surveillance capitalism” is actually part of an incredibly complex and long-term agenda that combines everything from energy services, stock markets, climate data, “happiness,” news services and more into an artificial intelligence economy of the future.
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I would encourage readers to visit the article archive of Julie Beal to get a better sense of the scope into which Pokémon Go fits perfectly. Essentially, it means turning people into algorithms for data harvesting and extraction.
All of the above is bad enough when applied to adults who presumably have obtained a level of knowledge that can breed skepticism about what they are being offered, but the exploitation of children is universally considered to be the very lowest depths of evil.
Recognizing this literal “luring” that is being employed by the Pokémon Go app to “catch” children, an advocacy organization called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has launched a petition calling on Niantic, Inc., to cease delivering children into the hands of sponsors and advertisers:
Pokemon GO is a location-based augmented reality (AR) game which requires players to visit specific real world places—called “PokeStops” and “Pokemon Gyms”—in order to capture, battle, and train virtual creatures. Niantic says Pokemon GO encourages players to “Get Up, Get Out, and Explore.” But Niantic is selecting some PokeStops and Gyms based on paid sponsorships, using the game’s incredible appeal to entice customers to brick and mortar establishments, and McDonald’s is one of the first sponsors. In Japan, every McDonald’s is already a Pokemon GO hot spot. Once children playing the game arrive at the restaurant, they’re enticed to buy Happy Meals with Pokemon GO toys.
“No child should be lured to McDonald’s or any other sponsor’s establishment while playing Pokemon GO,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of CCFC. “If Niantic wants to cash in on the game’s enormous popularity by herding players to its sponsors’ locations, it should exclude children from this type of marketing.”
Added Angela J. Campbell, Georgetown Law Professor and CCFC Board Member, “It is the height of hypocrisy for Niantic to tout Pokemon GO as a means to get children outside, then use the game to sell Happy Meals.”
Pokémon Go could become an important test case to see how quickly and completely people will accept a future of augmented reality. Every major tech company is betting big that it will be the next “killer app.” But this future could become an exponential nightmare that fundamentally transforms human behavior. Now is the time to share this information and educate friends and family that this is definitely not a game.