Pokémon Stop! (Or Maybe Just Slow Down A Little)

41894135 - tokyo japan - may 9, 2015: pokemon japanese animation.You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is downloading and playing the new Pokémon Go game for smartphones (forget the cat, you probably bumped directly into them because they are not paying attention to their surroundings). News broke recently that if you are playing the game on your iPhone, you may be handing over all of your personal data from your Google account to the company that created the Pokémon Go app. This was apparently not in the design.  The company is working to correct the error in the programming stating, "Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access."

Talk about a cautionary tale for companies and customers, alike.

Companies need to build privacy and security into all aspects of their products. I have long written about companies embracing Privacy by Design principles and think carefully about how their goods and services will collect and use personal data-BEFORE they reach the marketplace. Furthermore, this privacy analysis has to consider what risks come with partnering with another company or application with a connection to another database of personal data.  I am not saying companies shouldn't partner or use such features as the one's creating problems for Pokémon Go —obviously customers appreciate the convenience of shared log-ins and other benefits.  However, companies need to think through the entire transaction before they roll their product out the door.  And nowhere is this approach needed more than in the world of mobile apps, where research and development timelines can last a whopping couple of hours as opposed to months and years in more traditional applications and products.

Customers need to slow down and take a breath too. If you care about your privacy, as so many Americans say they do, then take the time to read the privacy policy to educate yourself on how a company is going to use your data in every app you purchase.  Even if this Pokémon Go bug didn't exist, the Pokémon Go privacy policy still authorized this sharing of data with Google and others, saying "all of this data can be shared with third-party service providers" to conduct "research and analysis."  What is "research and analysis," anyway?  And what data is collected?  Well, your physical location, IP address, and web history to name just a few.  By the way, two men were recently arrested for using the app to lure victims into being robbed. Bad actors, to be sure.  Not necessarily a bad app, but one that requires your attention.  You do have a choice in what doors you open when using an app and the benefits and risks that might come with doing so.

Does this concern anyone? I'm sure, but not enough to stop people from downloading Pokémon Go and trying to "catch 'em all."  The Pokémon Go app is being downloaded in record numbers with people spending 45 minutes a day on the app according to a Huffington Post article. So you think people are reading the privacy policy?  Probably not, or at least not enough to question what "research and analysis" really means or what happens when your location information is provided or accessed so easily.  As I have written before, no one will care more about your privacy than you. Now, I am not the privacy curmudgeon trying to rain on everyone's parade.  But, when the thrill is gone when you fail to "catch 'em all," the data you gave away in the process will be long gone too.

Maybe I am wrong. Obviously people have no trouble giving up their personal information in return for a pleasurable distraction with cartoon characters.  Furthermore, Nintendo is not hurting as its stock price soars as a result of the game's popularity.  But not all products are this popular nor create the hysteria this game has.  The majority of (smaller) companies make less exciting products.  Products into which consumers (and regulators) might not be overwhelmed with the fever to overlook what those products do with personal data.  For these companies, thinking about privacy and security and building them in up front will help to keep their doors open and business growing.

More sales? Gotta "catch 'em all."

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Scot Ganow |