Greetings from Brussels!
There always seems to be one craze or another that hits us every summer; traditionally it has been a global hit song on the music charts. This year, unless you’ve been on interstellar travel, you’d be hard pressed not to notice the "Pokemon Go" madness that has engulfed the globe. In the past four weeks I have been to Spain, France and the fair shores of the United States of America. The one common denominator I have witnessed transcending culture, language and borders is the obsession with the smartphone application that requires users to collect cartoon character Pokemons as they journey to real-life locations. It's fondly referred to as augmented gaming reality. This is not limited to the young somethings, I have seen middle-aged men and women on my travels sheepishly pounding walkways and parks in search of bonus points … please.
Its success has heralded a surge in concern over the safety and privacy implications of location-based games and apps. In the U.S. last month, criminals used "Pokemon Go" to lure teenage victims to an isolated location where they were robbed. Last week Iran became the first country to ban the game because of unspecified "security concerns." This week in Belgium the police began to hand out fines to mobile phone users who present a danger to themselves or others in public areas and thoroughfares. The 55 euro fines that have gone into effect are based on the highway code obliging users to conduct themselves in such a manner as to not cause a nuisance to themselves or others. There have already been cases of pedestrians as well as drivers being so preoccupied with the game that they have created a real danger.
The sudden emergence and vast scale of "Pokemon Go" adoption is matched by the game’s aggressive use of personal information. Unlike other mainstream media such as Twitter or Facebook, the app requires uninterrupted use of your location and camera — a “trove of sensitive user data,” as the U.S. privacy watchdog Electronic Privacy Information Center put it in a concerned letter to U.S. federal regulators. Consumer watchdogs across Europe have also been raising questions about the contract customers must agree to before using the game. Originally, "Pokemon Go's" terms of service waive a player's rights to courtroom representation as a plaintiff or class-action member in favor of binding, individual arbitration, unless the user opts out within a month of the download. The company behind "Pokemon Go" has since made certain amendments to their terms of service. Additionally, certain safety notifications have been included in app updates.
From the privacy viewpoint, like any smartphone app that seeks permissions in respect of users' personal data, such as location data or for advertising or personalizing services, there are privacy implications and users should make themselves aware of the terms to which they are agreeing in downloading and installing a given application, but so should companies make sure these implications are easy to understand. It's interesting that Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner published this week detailed guidelines in respect of location data to assist individuals in understanding how organizations collect and process information relating to their locations and their rights to the protection of their personal data. The guidelines also provide clarity to organizations on their obligations regarding such data; the overriding principle of the guidance centers on the protection of the individual’s right to data privacy.
The rate of technological innovation continues at pace, with more and more location data being collected and transmitted. Expect individuals and consumers to be increasingly vigilant or at least conversant in how this information is collected, processed and re-used, and act accordingly.
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