Is Pokemon Go a National Security Risk? Potentially, Yes

Nintendo’s smash hit augmented reality game Pokemon Go is attracting the attention of conspiracy theorists who believe it’s part of an elaborate plot to spy on users or get them to spy on behalf of sundry foreign governments.

In China, where the app is not officially available, people are telling each other to avoid using the app anyway lest it allegedly allow foreign nations to spy on the country’s military installations:

“Don’t play Pokemon GO!!!” said user Pitaorenzhe on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. “It’s so the U.S. and Japan can explore China’s secret bases!”

The conspiracy theory is that Japan’s Nintendo Co Ltd, which part owns the Pokemon franchise, and America’s Google can work out where Chinese military bases are by seeing where users can’t go to capture Pokemon characters.

The game relies on Google services such as Maps.

The theory is that if Nintendo places rare Pokemon in areas where they see players aren’t going, and nobody attempts to capture the creature, it can be deduced that the location has restricted access and could be a military zone.

“Then, when war breaks out, Japan and the U.S. can easily target their guided missiles, and China will have been destroyed by the invasion of a Japanese-American game,” said a social media post circulated on Weibo.

While there is no confirmation for this theory, it does appear to be the case that some people looking to capture Pokemon on U.S. military bases are having little success. In all likelihood, part of the delay behind the release of the game in China is the desire on the part of the game’s developer, Niantic, to block off certain locations from having the creatures appear.

There doesn’t appear to be a complete ban from Niantic on having Pokemon appear on bases, however. Several bases have explicitly banned personnel from trying to catch the virtual animals while on base. Others are merely advising service members to avoid going into restricted areas to look for them.

Aside from national security concerns, there are some privacy and security issues for users of the smash hit game. Owners of Apple’s smartphones are apparently at risk of allowing Niantic to read their email, Google Apps documents, access their map search histories, and more. Pokemon Go players on the Android operating system are not at risk, however.




Photo by Sadie Hernandez

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