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Pokémon Go: Consumers are playing with their privacy

by Jack Millership , 20.07.2016

Pokémon Go is the new augmented reality game released by Niantic over the last two weeks that has taken the world and social media by storm. Players take the role of Pokémon trainers, and use their smartphones to capture monsters that are overlaid onto the real world using the smartphone’s camera. They are tasked with collecting all 151 Pokémon, and game play also includes using real world locations as PokéStops – where special items can be found, and Pokémon Gyms - where players can battle Pokémon left by other trainers.

Security concerns around personal data

On Tuesday 11th July security concerns around Pokémon Go were widely reported in the news media. These stemmed from the iPhone version of the app asking for full permission to access the Google accounts of users after it was installed. This level of permission includes access to Google Maps history, Google searches, and even the ability to read Gmail messages.

Niantic reacted quickly to this and updated the app on Tuesday, releasing a statement saying that this was an error and they are working on a client-side fix so Pokémon Go only has access to basic profile data.

Pokémon Go as an outlier: Does security really matter to consumers?

According to research conducted in 2015 by GfK Consumer Life, 48% of consumers in the USA and 37% of consumers in the UK agree that “It is very important to actively manage my online identity and personal information”.

However since its release Pokémon Go has held the number one position in the App Store. Whilst download information is not made publicly available, it is safe to assume that downloads of the game numbered in the millions, even before Niantic updated the permissions required.

This means that millions of consumers were prompted to confirm that the application could have full access to their Google account and chose to accept.

This begs the question: How much do consumers really care about their data? If the latest gaming craze is enough to convince consumers to allow this level of access, do these claims around the importance of privacy add up in real life? At what point does a product or service become attractive enough that concerns around privacy no longer matter?

A powerful tool in understanding consumer behavior

If nothing else this is a reminder of how much information mobile devices collect, and how easy it is for smartphone users to allow third parties to access this information without really considering the consequences.

Even with the new lower levels of permissions Pokémon Go is still collecting GPS, profile and account information.  This allows them to build up a robust set of location data alongside identifiable information, a very powerful tool in understanding consumer behavior.

But the story doesn’t end here – in addition to gathering valuable information passively, augmented reality games can also be used to influence consumer behavior.

A new frontier: Advertising in virtual/augmented reality

Niantic have previously worked with brands such as Softbank and AXA to include in-game advertising in their virtual reality worlds, and the developers have stated that they plan to do the same with Pokémon Go.

Players of Ingress can use in-game items to give them an advantage over their opponents. The game includes rare and improved versions of these items in the form of the ‘SoftBank Ultra Link’ and the ‘AXA Shield’. The AXA Shield is more likely to be obtained by the player when they visit an AXA location, encouraging the players who want the very best items to engage with partner brands.

Similarly in the not too distant future Pokémon trainers will be able to visit real world brick and mortar locations of Niantic’s partners to receive additional items or other in game benefits.

Thus the real power of augmented reality games lies not only in the wealth of information brands are able to collect on users, but also on the ability to influence behavior in the real world via benefits offered in the virtual world.

Jack Millership is a Research Manager of Market Opportunity and Innovation at GfK. Please email him at jack.millership@gfk.com to share your thoughts.

This article first appeared in ResearchLive 19/07/16.