Pokemon Go can’t catch a break from scrutiny of its privacy practices.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit, public interest research group that aims to protect consumer privacy, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation on Niantic Inc., the developer of the popular game.
The letter charges that Niantic has been capturing and storing the information of Pokemon Go users – including school-age children, which would violate federal privacy laws – since its launch earlier this month.
“We want the FTC to establish concrete limits on the amount of information Pokemon Go is collecting and how long they are keeping it,” Claire Gartland, consumer protection counsel at EPIC, told EdScoop. “Niantic should only be allowed to collect data that is necessary for the operation of the app. Data collection should not be a free-for-all of sensitive consumer data.”
[Related coverage: ‘Smart toys’ like Pokemon Go, Hello Barbie raise fresh privacy concerns]
The developers were hit with backlash when it was revealed that the company had granted itself “full access” to the Google accounts of Pokemon Go users, and that the game was capturing full names and location history. The company quickly refuted the allegations of foul play, saying the collection of excess information was unintentional, and they would work to solve the problem.
But the issue raised red flags, as privacy experts questioned why the app did not request user permission before storing their personal data.
In the letter to the FTC, EPIC pointed out that the CEO of Niantic, Inc., John Hanke, also spearheaded the Google Maps “Street View” project in 2006. At the time, Google was capturing photos of homes, schools and business to create a virtual map. Google officials said they were only storing photos necessary to create the map, but after an investigation, it was revealed that the company had been collecting sensitive wifi data, emails and password information without consent.
“It wasn’t a mistake. It was a deliberate decision to design the technology for all of this to happen,” Gartland said.
“We hope our letter is a reminder that a lot of apps collect much more data than what’s necessary for the service they provide,” Gartland added. “This is a reminder for the FTC to take a closer look at Pokemon Go and other apps because the excessive collection of data can be harmful to consumers, especially when it comes to location data, and especially for children.”