Director Oliver Stone is no stranger to being a bit of a contrarian. In fact, in many ways he's made an entire career of challenging perspectives in his own inimitable way. Global capitalism, the treatment of Vietnam veterans, JFK, American history; there are few topics Stone will shy away from, however he's now moved onto his biggest and most controversial target yet: Pokémon Go. May God have mercy on his soul.
It seems Stone has not heeded the call from Nintendo, and Pokémon Go creator Niantic Inc., to "catch 'em all." In fact, he told a San Diego Comic-Con panel for his upcoming Edward Snowden biopic, Snowden, that the Pokémon Go app was the first step on a road toward totalitarianism:
“It's not funny. What’s happening is a new level of invasion. [. . .] Pokemon GO kicks into that. It's everywhere. It's what some people call surveillance capitalism. It's the newest stage. You'll see a new form of, frankly, a robot society, where they will know how you want to behave and they will make the mockup that matches how you behave and feed you. It's what they call totalitarianism.”
Check out the Snowden trailer below:
Zachary Quinto, who plays Glenn Greenwald in Snowden, also added his two cents, although somewhat more diplomatically than Stone. He added:
"People need to pursue what makes them happy, what makes me happy is looking up at people and putting down my screen for at least some part of the day."
Of course, I don't think anyone was particularly surprised Oliver Stone is a critic of Pokémon Go (indeed, if you're surprised by anything in this article it should be that Snowden even had a Comic-Con panel). He is after all, not exactly the target audience. However, he is not the only person to have expressed concern over the shady behind-the-scenes dealing of the app as well as its impact.
Let's take a look at some of the major points of criticism against Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go Privacy Concerns
The current number one concern surrounding Pokémon Go appears to be how it approaches the use of your data. Like many apps, Pokémon Go requests access to certain pieces of personal data. How it uses that data is then entirely up to Niantic Inc., and, more nefariously, unnamed third parties.
Soon after the release, much was made about Pokémon Go's request for full access to iPhone users' Google Accounts, including emails, browsing data, photos on your Google Drive, calendar and contacts. Furthermore, to function as intended, Pokémon Go also required access to your camera's phone and GPS location. For many, this is a worthwhile exchange in order to catch digital critters from your childhood, but for others it is something to be concerned about.
For the most part, most critics are not overly concerned with what Niantic, Nintendo or Google do with your information, however, these third parties have them worried. David Kennedy, a cyber security expert and founder of Ohio-based Binary Defense Systems, told Politifact:
With Google, it’s a well-established service. Facebook is a well-established service, with terms and conditions you can read. These third-party applications could be selling your name, your address, your phone number, your contact list, what you’re browsing — directly tied to your name.
More recently, Niantic responded to these concerns, claiming the full request for Google information from users was a mistake, and have now released an update limiting it to basic account information. Despite this, the clauses in their privacy agreement still stand. There is now also debate about whether it was a genuine overlooked mistake (albeit a very big one) or if they are merely responding to the backlash.
A Government Conspiracy?
Some, admittedly less reliable sources have gone even further. Suggesting Pokémon Go's access to your GPS and camera allows shadowy government forces to keep track of your movement at any given time. In fact, some have suggested that is the very reason for the creation of the app: Fool people into think they're having fun with nostalgic anime characters, and in exchange they willingly surrender to be tracked when they wouldn't have otherwise.
Of course, this is a bit out there, but there is some serious elements to this. For example, the NSA, CIA and other law enforcement agencies are undoubtedly interested in the abilities of Pokémon Go — as they are in all technology that tracks people. With so many people using the app 24/7, it is a valuable tool for them to track individuals' whereabouts. Now, of course, many of these people you might want tracked for public safety, but it goes without saying that groups such as the FBI and CIA don't always have a great track record when it comes to respecting the civil rights of people who have committed no crimes.
Indeed, the privacy agreement from Niantic, which was a Google subsidiary, states it may "disclose any information about you (or your authorized child) that is in our possession or control to government or law enforcement officials or private parties."
Although Apple has recently been in the news regarding their resistance to law enforcement requests, it seems Google does not have this tradition, with Kathleen Stansberry, a Cleveland State University assistant professor who specialises in social media and strategic communications, adding:
Google has a history of cooperating with law enforcement and I would imagine Pokémon Go would as well.
If that's got the conspiracy theorist part of your brain ticking, well wait until you hear this. The founder of Niantic, John Hanke, also founded Keyhole, a GPS mapping start-up, which received funding from In-Q-Tel, a tech incubator whose website claims it "identifies, adapts, and delivers innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader US Intelligence Community."
Invasion Of Mindless 'Pokézombies'?
In addition to the technical criticisms, there is a social one. One of the great things about Pokémon Go is that is brings together people — who might be otherwise gaming in a natural-light deprived tomb — into the real world with tweeting birds, lovely green grass and careering motor vehicles.
Although this is certainly to be commended, it hasn't stopped some from pointing out potential downsides, with nymag.com's Brian Feldman going so far as to announce we've been invaded by "Pokézombies." Others, such as Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science at M.I.T., has suggested that, far from better engaging with the real world, we are becoming more separated from it, or at the very least, re-writing it to represent our digital one:
But the fundamental reason we want children to take time away from screens does not have to do with keeping them on the move or playing in groups. We hope that by engaging children with the real they will be brought into a dialogue with what only the real offers... Reality is fragile and complex. It demands a lot and we are fatigued. Addressing real problems begins by seeing them clearly. If we are not vigilant, seeing the world through a lens — albeit not darkly — can be a first step toward accepting a dreamscape as sufficient unto the day.
Pokémon Go has also seen public places overrun with young people clutching phones, and many places, such as McDonald's restaurants, are eager to encourage this for business reasons. However, there are also concerns about how this "invasion" could affect other members of the public who wish to use places such as parks and museums for quiet reflection. Indeed, some sensitive locations, such as Arlington Cemetery and DC's Holocaust Memorial, have issued statements asking visitors not to use Pokémon Go on the premises. In the latter case, the Holocaust Museum was actually selected as a PokéStop.
And then, of course, there's the issue of people simply not looking where they're going when moving around in throngs of other people — or, even worse, when driving a car.
So Is Pokémon Go Worth It?
Clearly, Pokémon Go is not inherently evil, and you could clearly also write an equally long article about its benefits. Furthermore, in reality, it does not invade your privacy, in a technical sense, any more than most apps you've downloaded. The important question users need to ask themselves is whether the product is worth the cost. In former times, it was much easier to know what this cost actually was, since it was slapped on a label on a massive box on a shelf. Now, in the information age, it's much harder, especially with "freemium games".
As my Dad constantly reminds me, "Nothing in this world is free, even the free stuff." Niantic Inc. has released a product for "free," and it would be naive to suggest they've done this out the goodness of their hearts, it's clearly because they know they can recoup the costs in other, less obvious, ways, such as in-game micro-transactions, or selling your information. Other companies seem to recognize this too, as Nintendo's stock jumped a whopping $9 billion on the stock market.
Many app and tech companies have realized that in the modern age it's tough to get tech-savvy kids to pay for anything on the internet with cold, hard tangible cash. They are, however, much more willing to give up the intangible, such as information about themselves. Information that, importantly, someone will pay cold, hard cash for. After all, the latest generation has spent their entire lives on the internet and this is now second nature. Meanwhile, older consumers might still be reticent.
So ultimately, Pokémon Go isn't really good or bad, it is simply a product with a cost like all others. You just have to ask yourself if you think the cost is worth it. The only real issue is that it's often difficult to know what exactly you are actually paying.
How do you feel about Pokémon Go?