Sen. Franken to Work With Pokémon GO Makers on Privacy

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By Daniel R. Stoller

Sept. 1 — Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) announced Sept. 1 that he will work with Niantic Inc., the maker of Pokémon GO, to improve privacy and data collection practices.

Consumers have raised privacy issues about Pokémon GO since its release, Franken said in a statement. “That is why I pressed app maker Niantic to detail how Pokémon GO collects, uses and shares its users' information,” he said.

U.S. citizens “have a fundamental right to privacy—and that right includes access to clear and comprehensive information about how users' personal information is treated,” Franken said.

A Niantic spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 1 that the company was “happy” to answer Franken's “questions about Pokémon GO.” Niantic's Aug. 26 response to Franken “provided background information on the app, and covered topics including data collection, app settings and privacy,” she said.

Consumers and privacy advocates have raised concerns over Pokémon GO's data collection practices, particularly for children playing the game (15 PVLR 1560, 8/1/16). The application's use of geolocation tracking and possible sale of information to third-parties have drawn the ire of the game's users.

App makers should be cautious about which data they collect. If they aren't careful the app makers may be subject to potential litigation, regulatory enforcement actions or a congressional inquiry.

Niantic is a private company that was originally a startup at Alphabet Inc's Google before it spun off in October 2015, Bloomberg data show.

Franken Investigation

Franken has been investigating Pokémon GO since its July 2016 U.S. release.

As part of his investigation, he sent a letter July 12 to Niantic CEO John Hanke expressing his concerns over Pokémon GO's privacy policies and data use, collection and sharing methods. Franken inquired about “exactly which information collected by Pokémon GO is necessary for the provision or improvement of services.” He also asked for clarification on whether Niantic will offer consumers the right to opt in to the location data collection and how the mobile app developer will obtain a parent's consent when collecting a child's information.

In response to Franken's letter, Niantic General Counsel Courtney Greene Power Aug. 26 clarified that the app collects and stores the data to “provide and improve Niantic's services” and not for any other purpose.

She also explained that upon download a user must enter their age to prove they are over 13. If a child is below that age, parents have to sign up for their own account and use a “verifiable parental consent mechanism provided” by a third party.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com ; Jimmy H. Koo at jkoo@bna.com

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