"Pokemon Go" Ushers In New Phase Of Smartphone Surveillance

This past week's release of the smartphone gamified reality app "Pokemon Go" heralds the beginning of a new phase of the smartphone surveillance era. Billed as an "augmented reality" game the app uses in game incentives to direct users to physically visit locations that they would not otherwise. The app has already lead to a teenager discovering a dead body in a location she would have not otherwise visited.

In addition to directing users to physical locations the app encourages users to enable their smartphone's camera so that they may see pokemon "appear" in the real world. This active scanning of the real world by app users presents far greater potential for image collection than the typical social media app which relies on the user's vanity to get them to use their smartphone's camera.

It almost makes the app's requirement to turn on the smartphone's location services, one that will likely snare low intelligence "criminals", seem mundane.

Pokemon Go was preceeded by an alternate reality game called Ingress also developed by Pokemon Go creator Niantic. Ingress however lacked tie ins to any popular media franchises1 which would have delivered a ready made user base in the manner Pokemon Go has. Peace in our time!


  1. Deepening the rabbit hole is Nintendo's long refusal to allow media properties they have a stake in to run on devices that aren't also sold by Nintendo.  

3 thoughts on “"Pokemon Go" Ushers In New Phase Of Smartphone Surveillance

  1. I'm sure the truly fat and lazy will find ways of not having to physically displace their bodies to play this "game". There are some Xposed modules, which spoof your location (and there are also ways to conceal the fact that you have root and are running these things from your applications). There's also even an official Google pheature called "mock locations", though I'm unsure if that would be of any use here.

    This is also useful for Tinder and similar stuff.

  2. The surveillance was only a side-effect, what it feeds into, I dunno, and I doubt Nintendo really cares at this point. This is an unfortunate side effect of AR games. Nintendo has done pretty good at defending privacy in games, pushes to prevent potential tracking devices from showing up in their consoles up until the Wii-U). In fact I think they were the one video game E-Commerce platform for some time that allowed you to pay with cash.

    The Wii also saw the game Manhunt 2, which at one point would allow you to rip the testicles off of someone using a Wii-mote, Nintendo had to compromise cause they didn't want to deal with the baggage associated with an A-O rated game. They've been good about preventing censorship despite a drastic push for publishers to censor themselves in the name of the children.

    Pokemon GO was originally conceived as an April Fool's joke in combination with Google Maps in 2013. The easter egg known as "Pokemon Challenge". The late Satoru Iwata at the time thought of it initially as a "joke game" IIRC, whereas Tatsuo Nomura was really inspired by the idea. The April Fool's day Pokemon Challenge lasted much longer than a single day, as was initially intended.

    Well Iwata-sama died in 2015 (frownie face), a man who pretty much made Pokemon into what it is today. Before becoming one of the most beloved presidents of Nintendo, Iwata-sama worked for Gamefreak, and HAL Laboratories. Not only did he work on arguably one of the best RPG's of all time, Earthbound, he was brains behind bringing the original Pokemon battle system from Red and Blue to Pokemon Stadium.

    He was arguably the driving force and spirit behind modern Nintendo. He was also iirc, the first president of the company not in the Yamauchi-family; his work in the 90's was influential enough to be awarded this responsibility. Pokemon Go would become his legacy project.

    Although Hiroshi Yamuichi had brought Nintendo into the video game market, seeing the launch of the Famicom through the launch of the N64, Nintendo started to struggle in the late 90's. Games were being purchased less often, and the console arms race focused on hardware power, between Sony and Nintendo, resulted in a zero-sum outcome. By 2003, Sega exited the console market completely to avoid bankruptcy, and Nintendo began reorganizing its teams to focus strictly on software and game design.

    Well this initial revitalization worked, Nintendo started to claw back sales lost in the late 90s, and was heading towards a new era. However, the Wii-U and 3DS platforms were unable to attract the same user base as their predecessors – starting in 2012, the company started seeing operating losses. The bleeding became so significant, Iwata-sama took a 50% salary cut instead of cutting his employees wages. So he turned to the mobile market.

    The strategy was the same behind the Wii – reach as many people as possible, rather than trying to utilize strategies that would make the most money. If you recall Zynga had ridiculous trouble attempting to maintain profitability on their "brain hack model" which revolved completely around poor quality games powered by the "free to play"/"freemium" model. Iwata wanted to avoid creating terrible games, as Nintendo's seal of quality was the sole savior of the Video Game Market Crash of 1983.

    Well this is where Pokemon Go comes in. Tatsuo Nomura who worked on Google Maps during the time of Google's Pokemon Challenge, eventually become a senior project manager at Niantic. His strong ties to Nintendo and specifically Tsunekazu Ishihara, the creator of Pokemon, led to the Pokemon Go project, a perfect fit for Iwata-sama's last strategy before passing. Given Pokemon Go is doing far better than Ingress ever did, it seems the strategy worked. Hopefully Iwata-sama's passing doesn't result in Nintendo's mobile strategy turning into a Zynga-like fiasco, as it's always heartbreaking to see a truly terrible Nintendo game…

    Rest in peace Satoru Iwata. "Some men just wanna see the world have fun."

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