Scott Monty

Scott Monty

There were a couple of hiccups that initially were minor speed bumps in the viral rise of Pokémon GO. As you know, the app seriously took off in the last few weeks, and everywhere you go, you can see people of all types playing the game. Our family lives in a somewhat rural area, and we see parents walking their kids around the neighborhood, looking for Pokémon.

But in the rush to be part of this craze that's sweeping the nation, many people breezed past a couple of critical issues in the signup process that could come back to haunt them later on.

A Matter of Permission

The first is a matter of how you register an account to play the game itself. Within the first week of its debut, one security analyst noted that there were two options for signing up, specific to iOS users: through an existing Pokémon account, or with a Google account. For those who didn't have a Pokémon account, they couldn't create one because servers were swamped with the popularity of the game. So, that left them only with the Google option.

But here's the rub: normally, when you create an account, you see a message saying what data the app is going to be able to access — something like “This app will be able to view your email address and name." No big deal, right? Well, when you signed up with your Google credentials, you granted full access to Niantic Labs and Pokémon. When you grant full account access, the application can see and modify nearly all information in your Google Account. It can read your email and send email as you; it can access all of your Google Drive documents, including deleting them; it can look at your search history and your Maps history; it can access your Google Photos, public and private.

Get the picture?

Pokémon's creators acknowledged the error fairly quickly, saying that "Pokémon GO only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected." From there they developed a fix and Google verified that the app doesn't access anything more than your email address and User ID.

Coming to Terms

With that crisis averted, here's another one to concern yourself with: Pokémon GO's Terms and Conditions — you know, the obligatory screen that you have to click and scroll through in order to activate a new app — contain some language that means you'll give up certain legal rights, such as right to a jury trial or class action suit. This is in its "Arbitration Notice" section, which also refers to the "Agreement to Arbitrate" section further down. The good news is that you can opt out if you email — or mail — the company. That's right, the good old US Postal Service will help protect you from the Arbitration Clause of the latest and hottest smartphone app.

But let's step back a moment. Have you ever tried reading through an app's Terms and Conditions while you're on a mobile device? Most of them are longer than Hamlet or three times as long as the US Constitution. That's too long to read on a desktop.

Ts & Cs are long for one reason: they were written by lawyers who are out to protect the company. There's no thought of the user. If there were, there would be a better user experience. This is an area of business that, to this commentator at least, seems to be ripe for change.

Who's looking out for the average person? And how is an average person supposed to understand what's at stake? You need a lawyer present to advise you of the details. That's not really a practical thing for most people — especially for those who are busy catching Pokémon.

Where's the customer-centricity in these apps?

If you liked this commentary, you can get it as an audio entry in my new podcast The Full Monty. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spreaker or SoundCloud.

Image credit: Blue Diamond Gallery


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