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Self-Defense and Pokemon Go!

08.11.16 by Amy Jones

Pokemon GO! is all the rage these days.  I admit, I’m a fan.  I’m currently level 16, Team Instinct — because as a self-defense instructor I feel a certain loyalty to instincts, plus I like underdogs.  I’m starting to notice the safety warnings proliferating, too — some level-headed, some a little strident.  The always-excellent KidPower has a nice article about playing as a family.

I can see why people have safety concerns — well-intentioned people have been railing about the safety issues of walking around ‘buried in your phone’ for years now, and hunting Pokemon requires a certain attention to be paid to one’s device, at the same time as it encourages you to walk around.

The self-defense principles we teach are, of course, relevant:   recognize when you are taking risks, and do what you can to mitigate those risks.  Being around people and light, in areas that you’re familiar with, is safest.  Having an ally (close friend, family member, romantic partner) with you is also a good safety strategy.

The safety concerns break down into a few categories:

Watch Where You’re Going!

Well, yes.  This is always a good idea, and that doesn’t change because Pokemon GO came along.  When I’m walking down the street looking for Pokemon, I try to keep a 5-and-5 pace — I’ll watch the screen for 5 paces, and then look up at my surroundings for 5 paces.  Of course, when I come to intersections, I pay attention for as long as it takes to get across the street.   It is an absorbing game, and I can see how someone could come to grief by not paying attention.

The last few updates show that the game creators are thinking about this, too — when the game loads, in addition to the warning that has always been part of the game’s load screen, (“Remember to be alert at all times.  Stay aware of your surroundings,”)  you’ll now get one of several warnings:  “Do not trespass while playing Pokemon GO,” “Do not enter dangerous areas while playing Pokemon GO,” and “Do not play Pokemon GO while driving,” that you have to acknowledge in the game itself.  I was skeptical that people actually tried to play while driving, but as of the latest update, if the game detects that your speed has increased, it tells you again not to play while driving, and prompts you to acknowledge that you’re a passenger.  People — don’t Pokemon and Drive.  Distracted driving is pretty much always a bad idea.

Don’t Go To That Dangerous Place!

In addition to general “don’t go into dark alleys to find a PokeStop” types of warnings (pro-tip:  PokeStops don’t tend to be in dark alleys), there’s the story of the unsuspecting players who were attracted to a PokeStop with a lure on it and then robbed.  This was in fact reported as news in O’Fallon, Missouri, but Snopes says it was mis-reported.  This is really a variation of the “watch where you’re going” advice, with the extra spice of imagining ne’er-do-wells lying in wait (a variation endlessly popular in urban legends, it seems).

One of the better ideas I’ve seen is to play Pokemon GO with friends — that way, you can appoint someone to pay closer attention to surroundings and practice broad awareness, while others pay more attention to the game.  When Pokemon appear, they appear for all players, so this “team up” tactic works well.

Pokemon Go Will Steal Your Personal Information!

This is something that I’ve heard talked about amongst security-conscious users.  There was a kerfluffle with the game asking to access all of your Google Profile information in the account creation process, though the company claims that was an error.  Not being at Niantic (the game’s parent company) or having knowledge of the data they collect, I can’t really speak authoritatively (or even especially knowledgeably) about this.  I will say that the company doesn’t strike me as any more or less sinister than Google, Facebook, Instagram (which is also Facebook), or any of the various large software companies that are becoming ever-more savvy about datamining techniques.  My rule of thumb is to be judicious about what I allow to be captured digitally about me, and to be resigned to the reality that the price I pay for using modern technology is knowing that my data may (inevitably will, at some point) become available to the highest bidder.   If you’re worried, one tactic I’ve heard is to create a dummy Google account with minimal personal information, and use that as your login for the game.