Niantic Writes Back To Sen. Al Franken, Says Privacy Concerns Are All Fixed Now

Image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker

Back in July, when the Pokémon Go fad first hit and users had serious questions about the types of personal data that the location-based game was gobbling, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota decided to step in and add some gravitas to the proceedings. Franken is concerned about privacy and technology and how they intersect in new products like the Oculus Rift or Apple Music. His office sent game-maker Niantic a letter back in mid-July. The company responded, and their response, predictably, is that users shouldn’t have any privacy concerns.

The letter [PDF] first gives a nice overview of the company and its game suitable for members of the U.S. Senate, then addresses Franken’s particular privacy concerns. First, there is a separate signup process for children under age 13 who sign up to use the game but don’t simply put in a false birth date.

How the game is supposed to work is that users under 13 must have their accounts approved by the account of a parent or guardian, and data from children isn’t shared with partners or advertisers.

Yes, user data is shared. Franken expressed particular concerns over the fact that a game franchise that may interest children says that it may share user data with partners, and that user data may include the geographic locations that users visit while playing the game.

The company confirms that sponsored Pokéstops are coming to areas of the world other than Japan, where McDonald’s locations are sponsored stops. The company reserves the right to share data about user visits to sponsored stops with its advertisers, but not the identities of users.

Another concern was the far-reaching access to players’ Google accounts that the first version of the game demanded, which Niantic now says was an “erroneous” feature that was corrected in the second public version of the game.

Response from Niantic [PDF]

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