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Gotta catch ‘em all – but not in my backyard.
Since Pokémon Go’s release on 6 July, the augmented reality app has become a smash hit. In the game, players must track their location as they walk around, hunting down hidden monsters and visiting real-life locations tagged as stops or gyms. So far, it’s already been downloaded an estimated 15 million times. It became available in the UK today.
But all this enthusiasm led to more than a few uncomfortable interactions in the real world. A police station in Darwin, Australia, asked people to stop coming in to visit a Pokéstop – a place where free items can be picked up. Homeowners have been surprised to see playersOthers were aghast when Pokémon started showing up at sensitive sites such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum or the Holocaust Memorial Museum at Washington DC.
“We do not consider playing ‘Pokémon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We ask all visitors to refrain from such activity,” tweeted the Arlington National Cemetery, a US military cemetery in Virginia.
The game has suddenly brought to the fore a number of our once-speculative questions about. In the past, court cases have debated the physical boundaries of property, from to the dirt below – what about digital boundaries?
Stop, or I’ll Pika-sue
You do not have a right to any of the virtual space in and around your home, says, a commercial litigator in Michigan and the author of Augmented Reality Law, Privacy and Ethics.
“Digital objects aren’t really there,” he says. “You might see Pokémon on your little screen portrayed as if they’re in the middle of a street or in the middle of a park, but all you’re seeing is data that’s stored in a server somewhere, displayed on your phone.”
Instead, displeased parties might find more success focusing on the impact the game has in the physical world. Repeated visitors can cause a nuisance, interfering with the owner’s right to enjoy their property and perhaps giving them the grounds for a lawsuit.
And trespassers are still liable to be arrested, even if they just clambered into your backyard to get a little closer to a rare snorlax.
In addition, there’s a potential case for negligence if a company doesn’t act on a problem that their augmented reality game has created, says, programme director of the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington.
She draws a parallel to cases where software glitches led to real-life annoyances – such as whenkept sending people to the same house, belonging to a couple in Georgia.
No trainers policy
“I think in cases like this, lawsuits are very likely,” she says. “The question is whether or not they would be successful.” Niantic, the software development company, has already proven responsive to concerns about their game, she adds, and it’s in their best interest to work out issues ahead of time rather than see them go to court.
Augmented reality designers might take a page from virtual message board Yik Yak. After numerous bullying incidents, the app put up “geofences” to block access in and around schools.
To avoid situations like Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum in the future, McReynolds suggests that AR designers bring in a diverse set of stakeholders – players, regulators, businesses – and game out some of the ways the system might provoke unexpected or unwanted behavior.
“It might not be that we develop new policies, but that some of our existing systems turn out to work well when we have people who are paying attention to privacy, paying attention to security risks and pointing them out to the company,” she says.
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