Mobile Security

Pokémon Go real-world safety guide

Deborah Salmi, 15 July 2016

Pokémon Go 'trainers' risk getting minor boo boos to walking off a cliff. This guide will remind you what it's like to move around in the real world.

Gotta catch 'em all -- stay safe while doing so!

The Pokémon Go augmented reality game has swept across the USA and is now continuing its journey around the world. Society has grown accustomed to people's noses being stuck in their smartphones all the time, but Pokémon Go brings the addiction to new levels.

Here's your guide to keeping safe while running around town capturing pocket monsters.

Expect minor boo boos 

The major differentiating factor of this digital game is it actually happens outside. Since it’s summer in much of the Pokémon-stalking world, make sure you apply sunscreen before being outside for hours. All that sunshine means you’ll probably be sweating, so remember to take along a bottle of water.

Be aware of your surroundings

You need to know where you are, because you can be sure that the app knows. In order to play, Pokémon Go needs to know your location data, email address, and have camera access. With the popularity this game is enjoying, bad guys will be motivated to find vulnerabilities to exploit. But for now, the danger lies more in the real world than the digital one.

Players in Missouri, New York, and Maryland have been robbed of their mobile phones while distracted by the game. In the Missouri case, tech-savvy robbers lured their victim by planting a Pokéstop, a location where players can collect items and ‘level up’ faster, and ambushing him.

The Sheriff’s office in Virginia’s Goochland county issued a warning to Pokémon Go players to stay off private property. Monster hunters have trespassed on business, church, and government properties at all hours of the night, when these places are closed to the public. “These actions are considered trespassing and put the individual and Deputies in a position of unnecessary risk,” said a post on the Sheriff Department’s Facebook page.

Look up every once in a while

Legions of people are walking miles in search of Pikachu and Wigglytuff, which appear close-by you on your digital screen. Look up from the augmented world to the real world every once in a while, so you don’t step off a cliff like two guys in California.

Don’t be surprised by what you may find as you are having a walkabout. Dead bodies have been stumbled upon, and they are not always the kind you see here.

Use some common sense

Some places are just not appropriate to go chasing after a cartoon character. Just because there is a PokéStop in front of The Holocaust Museum or the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial doesn’t mean you need to be there. It’s disrespectful. Other real-life places to avoid: Funeral homes, funerals, and wakes.

Two people were arrested for jumping a fence at the Toledo, Ohio zoo. Oh, please.

Emergency services have had their share of ‘trainers’ bothering them. The Los Angeles County Fire Department requested that players not call 911 or “impact fire stations” while stalking their prey.

Don’t Poké and drive

Who would've thought we would miss the good ol’ days of texting and driving? Pokémon nearly claimed its first victim when a 28-year old man, driving by himself, saw a special monster on his phone and couldn’t resist playing. The distraction caused the driver to lose control and slam into a tree.

The clever folks at Lifehacker created a PokéBike. It allows you to move faster and helps hatch Pokémon eggs. Their wise advice – “Remember to actually stop when you do things on your phone. Don’t try to catch pokémon while moving, collect items at PokéStops, or battle at gyms while you’re moving. You will crash and either hurt yourself or someone else.”

Check for permission-hungry apps

A ruckus went up when a security firm analytics expert, Adam Reeve, pointed out that Pokémon Go player's account has full account access to your Google account. To play the game you need an account and there are only two ways to create one. Either you use an existing account from the pokemon.com website, which suspended new account registration before I installed the app a few days ago, or your Google account.

For iOS users, there's no option to edit these permissions. You can only revoke access entirely. If you logged in using your Google account on your Android device, you granted Niantic access to your Google username and email address.

Niantic, the game’s maker, updated the app to fix the security issues. If you are still playing with the original app on an iPhone, download the update, sign out, and sign back in. 

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