New York Bans Sex Offenders From Playing Pokémon Go

Pokémon GO players meet at Sydney Opera House on July 20, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. The Opera House hosted a Pokémon gathering, adding lures to all nearby Pokestops. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Update Aug. 1, 2016: Last week we reported that a children’s advocacy group called on Pokémon Go developer Niantic to update the game so it’s less dangerous to children who play it. That came in the wake of lots of reports about accidents, injuries, and even death. But other mishaps represent a different sort of danger: players being led to a home for sex offenders, and to a halfway house for drug addicts.

The group acted in the wake of many reported accidents and other mishaps,  such as the game leading players into a home for sex offenders and a halfway house for drug addicts. (See the original post, below.)

Today, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought more attention to the issue by directing state authorities to prevent nearly 3,000 registered sex offenders now on parole from playing the game.

Cuomo also sent a letter to Niantic asking for help in keeping sexual predators away. In the letter, Cuomo called out a feature “where, for a small fee, a ‘lure’ can be purchased to intentionally encourage traffic to a particular location” as having potential to be abused by predators.

Last week, Niantic’s consumer marketing director told Associated Press that the company was working on a way to ensure “everyone is playing safely and doing things in a respectful manner.”

Pokémon Go, as surely you know by now,  involves using your smartphone to apprehend animated creatures superimposed over real surroundings.

It’s been a smash hit. But as you can see in our updated list of all the accidents and other misfortunes related to the game, safety is a real concern. Whether the totality of the incidents represents a statistically significant level of danger, we can’t say. But it should at least serve as a warning to use common sense while playing or when letting your kids go out hunting for Voltorb and friends.

Original post, July 22, 2016

Last weekend, I took to the streets to play Pokémon Go with my daughter.

She loved it!

She’s seven.

Not that it matters. We can safely say that lots of people no longer in grade school are also Pokémon Going. Last week, around the office, I spied a 20-something meandering her way to the elevator, eyes locked on her phone in a way appropriate for someone tracking an earthbound asteroid, but that’s it. I  thought — and I swear this is true: This woman could walk right off a cliff.

Later I saw two people walked right off a cliff.

Two men in their early 20s fell an estimated 50 to 90 feet down a cliff in Encinitas, California, on Wednesday afternoon while playing “Pokémon Go” … The men sustained injuries, although the extent is not clear.

Okay, check this out: In Baltimore, Monday, a driver playing Pokémon Go (not a good idea) crashed into a parked police car (also not a good idea). The event was caught on a police body camera …

“That’s what I get for playing this dumbass game,” the driver, accurately, told the officers.

Here’s a Reddit post from someone who “slipped and fell down a ditch” while playing the game — which, in case you’ve been reading a book these past couple of weeks, involves apprehending animated creatures superimposed over real surroundings, as seen through the camera of your smartphone.

“Fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in my foot, 6-8 weeks for recovery,” the Reddit poster almost cheerfully explained. “I told all the doctors I was walking my dog lol… Watch where you’re going, folks!”

That is certainly sound advice, though not the kind you’d think would be necessary on an official basis. In fact, police departments around the country are issuing safety warnings related to the game.

On Tuesday, a San Francisco children’s advocacy group told KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler that playing the game while walking around is the equivalent of distracted driving. (Lots of people are playing while driving, too, as DMVs around the country have noted.)

Ariel Fox Johnson of Common Sense Media said that aside from all the accidents, mapping errors have led people into potentially harmful or inappropriate locations — such as a home for sex offenders and a halfway house for drug addicts.

Johnson took game developer Niantic to task.

“We think that they need to do more to protect children’s physical safety,” she said, “and make sure that parents know and that kids know how they can stay safe and be aware of their surroundings while playing this game.”

Johnson’s group sent a five-page letter to Niantic outlining its concerns.

“Children, in particular, are more likely to have difficulty identifying when game play may pose a real life threat to their safety,” the letter said. “Developers did not consider the game’s physical danger for children and others.” Among the group’s entreaties, it urges Niantic to  “Provide clearer and more conspicuous warnings about the dangers of gameplay in an augmented reality environment, including warnings to parents who consent to gameplay on behalf of their children.”

Niantic did not respond to Shuler’s request for comment.

Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markulla Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, in California, told Shuler the game raises new issues, as players are going wherever it leads them.

“On one hand, people are going out and they’re walking, and in some situations they’re actually interacting with other players,” she said. “But then I’m also hearing people just describing what looks like hundreds of zombies walking around just looking down at their screens.”

Raicu, too, believes Niantic needs to do more to proactively protect the safety of children and teens.

“Distracted walking” accidents have been surging for years, due to mass smartphone adoption. Pokémon Go adds a new vulnerability. The National Safety Council 10 days ago urged “gamers to consider safety over their scores before a life is lost. No race to “capture” a cartoon monster is worth a life.”

So, yeah. For crying out loud, use your head: Be safe.

“He died pursuing  Voltorb” will not look good on a tombstone.

New York Bans Sex Offenders From Playing Pokémon Go 1 August,2016Jon Brooks

  • Ellie

    Yeah, because god forbid parents teach their kids out to play a game responsibly. (Or adults play responsibly)

  • Fiona Anne Simms

    We love blaming the tools and not the people using them. Kids used to fall down wells, did we sue well diggers? Can’t stop or realistically control innovation; all we can control are our actions. Hold people accountable for their actions.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of EconomyBeat.org, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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