The Pokemon Go craze has brought with it stories of people falling off cliffs, discovering bodies, wandering unthinkingly into streets and being involved in road accidents.
The game, which overlays a digital world of creatures and features on the real world, has been officially launched in some 40 countries since July 5 but it hasn’t been welcomed with open arms at many places.
Civil servants in all government departments, from ministries to the intelligence agency, have been ordered not to play Pokemon Go at work in order to protect “state secrets”. The security establishment fears the game’s hi-tech capabilities could be used by foreign spies to access sensitive data.
Military and police personnel too have been banned from seeking to catch virtual monsters while on duty and the Jakarta presidential palace prohibited the game around its premises.
On Monday night, a French citizen working in Indonesia was detained after stumbling onto the grounds of a military base in West Java Province while searching for Pokémon figures.
The government of the country where the cutesy monsters were born has issued a rare nine-point safety guide warning of dangers gamers could face, from heat stroke to online scams. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority also issued a warning, calling on atomic power plant operators to watch out for players who might approach facilities while playing the game. Japan’s National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity has advised fans to download a weather app so hunts don’t land them in the path of a tsunami!
There is confusion on whether Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body has renewed a fatwa or religious edict issued in 2001 that declared the Pokemon game franchise un-Islamic since it promotes gambling and the theory of evolution. Saudi media said on Wednesday the body had renewed the fatwa without mentioning Pokemon Go, though an official of the ministry of culture and information denied this on Thursday.
The older fatwa prohibiting Pokemon re-appeared this week on a ticker on the home page of Saudi Arabia’s portal for official religious decrees issued by the council.
Authorities have warned players to avoid chasing the creatures onto landmines left over from the 1990s conflict. The country is estimated to have tens of thousands of landmines that pose a threat to players.
A communications official has said the game should be banned because sharing photos or videos of security sites could put the sites at risk. Hamdi Bakheet, a member of the defence and national security committee in parliament said, “Pokémon Go is the “latest tool used by spy agencies in the intel war, a cunning despicable app that tries to infiltrate our communities in the most innocent way under the pretext of entertainment”.
Authorities have banned the app at government sites, and officials warned it could put users’ personal data at risk or be used by criminals to lure victims to isolated places. Users must resist the urge to point camera phones at creatures popping out in front of the Kuwaiti Emir’s palace, mosques, oil facilities or military bases, the interior ministry said. The ministry directed security men to show “zero tolerance” for anyone approaching prohibited sites, a statement said.
Officials have warned soldiers not to play the game on bases as it could reveal their location.
Top cleric Mehmet Bayraktutar, head of the Diyanet-Sen union of imams, has said the game “undermines the significance and value of places where people worship” as users try to find creatures even in mosques. Bayraktutar suggested the game was a Western plot against Islam. “I condemn this, I want it to be banned in Turkey,” he said.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Arlington National Cemetery in Virgina have asked smartphone users to refrain from “catching” Pokemon when visiting the landmarks.
Officials in Newnan, a west Georgia city, have said Pokemon Go players are no longer allowed in its cemeteries. The city council passed an ordinance that prohibits people from playing internet or cellphone games at its three cemeteries after receiving multiple complaints about people damaging a fence and running on graves.
Officials have sounded warnings, saying “the consequences would be irreversible” if Pokémon players continued unchecked. Russian websites published articles claiming the game is a “CIA plot” while religious figures have denounced it. “It smacks of Satanism,” a Cossack leader told media. The Kremlin’s press secretary warned users not to visit the complex looking for Pokémon, and there was talk of prison time for anyone found looking for them in a church.
Police have issued a list of commonsense rules for Pokemon Go, warning users not to play it while driving and not to wander off with it alone. “Don’t use this application while driving. It’s difficult to do two things at the same time,” the police said.
Police issued guidelines on Monday on how to safely use augmented-reality games, including reminders that users are in “the real world” and must be aware of obstacles such as traffic lights and cars. The guidelines were issued after two Japanese tourists were rescued from a motorway tunnel in Barcelona, where they had wandered in search of Pokemon characters.
The Auschwitz museum has asked the makers of Pokemon Go to block players at the former Nazi death camp out of respect for the dead. The museum in southern Poland said it finds such game “inappropriate” at a site where hundreds of thousands of people suffered.
And filmmaker Oliver Stone, a staunch critic of surveillance by governments, has described the game as “a new level of invasion”.
“Google has invested in what surveillance is, data mining, which is about what you’re watching, what you’re buying, and Pokemon Go taps into that,” Stone said.
Pokemon Go “manipulates our behavior”, leading to a “robot society where they know how you behave...It’s what you call totalitarianism”, he said.
“It’s the fastest-growing business ever, and they have invested huge amounts of money into what surveillance is, which is data-mining,” Stone told the audience at his first appearance at Comic-Con.
“It’s what some people call surveillance capitalism. It’s the newest stage,” he said.