Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Pokemon Go.  The mobile game which revamps the 90’s anime franchise has swept the world.  Created by Niantic, Inc., and more popular than ever-addicting social media platforms like Snapchat, the location based augmented reality game allows users to capture, battle and train virtual Pokemon as though in the real world.  More on augmented reality here.

With Every Great Technological Advance Comes Great Legal Responsibility

While the game has increased players’ physical activity and been attributed with helping those with mental disorders, depression, and anxiety, it has also created many legal concerns, including

  • trespassing;
  • Physical injuries; and
  • arbitration rights.

But, with all the data that Pokemon Go is collecting from its players, who average 43 minutes of playing time per day, the major legal issue seems to be privacy.

The Data Exploitation of Pokemon Go

Niantic has its basics covered: there is a clear link to the company’s clear and understandable privacy policy, which includes steps taken to protect children’s privacy.  Furthermore, when the game first launched, the initial privacy scare concerning full access to users’ Google accounts was resolved quickly.  But the real privacy issue concerns the app’s data collection.

From the beginning of game play, players are giving the app a lot of information. Some of it seems harmless: e-mail address, name, naming your Pokemon, etc. But the real concern is its constant location tracking, a feature you consent to being accessible for other users to see.

Pokemon Go is definitely not the first game to sell persistent location tracking as a “service” but it is one of the most successful, with some 100 million installs to date and the most downloaded app on the App Store during its launch week.  By playing the game, users agree to allow Niantic, and fellow users, to track their location any time the app is in use.  For most users, who await the buzz of their phones to indicate a Pokemon is near, this means their app is always on, making Niantic a little less like a tech company and a little more like Big Brother.

How is the data going to be used?

The privacy policy allows for the collected information to be sold to third party marketing companies to better market to consumers; however, it is clear that the data will be grouped together and any identifying information will be stripped.  Overall, it’s unclear whether the data is solely being used by Google to improve its mapping product, or whether it will be used for a more nefarious purpose: hyper-targeted, location-based advertising.  While providing users with an ad for a restaurant that you just happened to pass by may seem harmless, it would be easy for Niantic to increase the sales of any store – all they would have to do is create a Pokestop, gym, or place a rare Pokemon in that location.  Just look at the company’s partnership with McDonald’s.


  • Pokemon Go’s launch and success have resulted in multiple legal concerns: injury liability, trespass, intellectual property and arbitration rights
  • Niantic’s Privacy Policy allows for all collected information to be sold to third parties
  • The collected information has the potential to change the way we advertise – providing real-time advertisements and increasing sales through the game itself

This article was co-authored by: Irene Wong


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