Pokémon Go: How Families Can Stay Safe (and Still Catch ‘Em All)

Pokémon Go and FamilyThanks to the new augmented reality game Pokémon Go, app fans across the globe are enjoying countless hours of fun hunting, capturing, and racking up their Pokémon creature collection. For families, the app can be a blast — as long as everyone slows down and plays smart. In fact, the app is being credited with getting phone-addicted kids outside, building family bonds, and inspiring community camaraderie among players.

Still, there are safety and privacy implications around the app that will kill off your fun quickly if ignored. News stories include: Pokémon Go users getting injured, robbed, wandering into sketchy places, and risking arrest for trespassing. Also, the personal data access users hastily approve when installing the app could trigger a privacy nightmare.

What it is:

Pokémon Go is an Augmented Reality (AR) game you can download on your smartphone for free. The game uses your phone’s GPS and camera to help you track and capture Pokemon monsters. Once installed, users (called Pokémon  Trainers) go outside and look for Pokemon Monsters (animated cartoon characters) in their neighborhood or nearby landmarks also called “Pokestops.” Looking at their phones in camera mode, players walk around their neighborhoods, and the animated creatures appear in the real backdrop (see photo right) and heckle users until being caught. Users capture the Pokemon monsters by throwing a “Pokeball” at the creature, which is simply a carefully aimed swipe across your phone screen.

Game goal:
The goal is to catch as many of the 722 Pokémon species as humanly possible. Once a player captures a Pokemon creature, he or she can then train them and “battle” against other creatures at “PokeGyms” which are actual landmarks outside of a users’ neighborhood. A gym might be at a church, a mall, a city square, or any other public place.Pokémon Go and Family

Family Talking Points:

  • The privacy implications are real. Don’t allow the app full data access to your photos, contacts and more. Revoke app access in your settings. Here’s the Pokémon Go privacy policy.
  • Don’t play Pokémon Go while driving. App users already are getting into trouble. This rule applies to bicycles, motorcycles, and any other moving vehicle.
  • Look both ways. Be aware of your surroundings. Users have stepped into traffic and into ponds hunting while staring at their phones and ignoring their environment.
  • Be respectful. Don’t look for Pokémon in museums, cemeteries, memorials, or other places deemed sacred to people who may be visiting.
  • Avoid police stations, firehouses, courthouses, military bases and other places where professional or government operations are underway.
  • Be respectful in public places such as parks, restaurants, or malls. Not everyone shares your enthusiasm for hunting Pokemon. Keep the victory shouts to a minimum.
  • Avoid dimly lit areas and sketchy parts of town. The quest to build your Pokemon count can win over good sense. So, reiterate to your kids to look up, look around, and to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
  • Nighttime Pokémon players are common simply because some monsters only come out at night. If your kids decide to go out, issue the proper warnings, or tag along and have some fun.
  • Any user can “drop a lure” when playing Pokemon Go, which is like a beacon. If you are near a lure, your screen lights up indicating someone else is close and playing the game, which means you could catch more Pokemon if you join him or her. Armed robbers have already used this Pokémon app function to attract victims, which means predators could use the app to lure users to an isolated area.Pokémon Go and Family
  • Don’t trespass. Homeowners aren’t putting out the welcome mat for Pokémon users (trainers). Avoid causing alarm, or being harmed, by staying clear of private property.
  • Pokémon Go in groups. Travel in groups of Poke trainers, which is more fun and of course, the smartest way for kids to go anywhere.
  • Do not go to meet-ups with strangers or alert them to your future location while using the app.
  • Addiction is real. The AR world is a lot of fun and can truly capture a child’s attention. Make sure your kids are having fun but not getting so addicted they forfeit common sense. Everything in moderation — even ambushing Pikachus and Bulbasaurs.

Still in its release infancy, the Pokémon Go app is crushing other favorite social apps and marks a shift in mobile gaming for families. So, getting a firm grip on family ground rules for AR apps that require GPS is the first thing you can do to stay ahead of the tech curve. There will, after all, be more AR worlds to conquer soon enough.

We will keep you posted on additional safeguards as they arise.

What has been your experience with PokémonGo? What safety issues, if any, have you noticed?

ToniTwitterHSToni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdsong

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