Are Pokemon GO, and Other Apps and Games, Spying on You Right Now?

Pokemon GO logo

In today’s world it is nothing new for apps and games to ask for certain permissions upon installing them.  Many ask for you to connect to social media or sign in with an e-mail address.  While these requests may seem reasonable- you want to be able to brag to friends on Facebook/Twitter about your successes right?  Sometimes an app or game will go too far with their requests of access into your personal life.  Pokemon GO is the latest game to come under the spotlight for overreaching with the requests for access while playing.  It is not the only one though.

The Facebook app and their Messenger app both have similar requests for access.  Many of the games we play also have wild requests.  This is nothing new.  What is new though is the depth that Pokemon GO goes with these requests.

First, Pokemon GO on Android only offers signing in with your Google account.  At first, you may think this is a very acceptable request since you are playing on an Android device.  It goes deeper though.  The game asks for permission for the following things which amounts to “full account access”:

Access your E-mails
Send E-mails as you
Access your photos (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Device history (not just browsing history) (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Search history
Location history (GPS) (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Access Google Docs/Drive
Identity (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Contacts (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Storage  (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Camera (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Full Network Access (also Facebook, Twitter and Messenger)
Okay, let’s break those down.  Access your e-mails.  This is concerning because why does Nintendo or developer Niantic or Google need access to your e-mails?  I know, Google is a search company at heart but what is the reasoning for Niantic and Nintendo?

Send E-mails as you.  This is a really big problem.  This means Niantic/Nintendo/Google could be spamming your friends right now using your e-mail account and you would not know it.

Access your photos.  Again, why does the game need access to your photos?  That goes for any of the companies in involved with Pokemon GO.

Documents.  See photos above.

Device history.  This one is a little mysterious for the everyday user.  What it means is, the game (and whomever is watching the data) can tell what state your phone was in, what you were doing before and after playing Pokemon GO.  Basically, it is like having all three companies, possibly more, looking over your shoulder at EVERYTHING you are doing on your phone throughout the day.  Again.  Why?

Search history.  Another “why?” request.  What purpose can looking at a person’s search history help make the game better?

Location and history.  Okay, the game needs access to your GPS to work correctly but why does it need access to your location history?  This is probably tied to the GPS and may possibly be out of the control of Niantic or Nintendo.  Maybe.

Access Google Drive and Docs (with edit capabilities).  I am sorry but there is no way this one can be legitimately proven as needed in my eyes.  There is no reason that my Google Docs and Drive account need to be accessed by any of the companies involved with Pokemon GO.  Maybe they are storing information in your Drive/docs for later retrieval?  Quite upsetting.

Identity.  This one is probably to keep cheaters from using multiple devices to spoof the game.

Contacts.  Not sure why Pokemon GO needs access to my contacts.  Couple this with the e-mail situation and I believe we will be seeing a lot of concerns over spam e-mails/text messages in the coming months.

Storage.  This one gives the game permission to modify and delete anything in your storage (on your phone basically).

Camera.  This one is common and actually easy to understand since you are able to use Augmented Reality to see the Pokemon in real life.

Full Network Access: This one is an anomalous request but is common on Android.

Depending on your level of concern of invasion of your privacy this can be very disconcerting.  At the moment I have been unable to find any other apps or games that have this level of access required to run.  At the very least Pokemon GO is collecting information that it obviously does not need to run and asking for permissions that are simply unfair and unheard of.

Status: True

Carl Williams

It is time gaming journalism takes its rightful place as proper sources and not fanboys giving free advertising. If you wish to support writers like Carl please use the links below.

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