'Pokemon Go' creator catches a privacy letter from U.S. senator

A U.S. senator with a history of probing tech privacy issues has asked the creator of the wildly popular Pokémon Go to detail what the company does with an array of information the mobile app collects from users’ phones.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Niantic Inc. chief executive John Hanke, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, questioned whether the “augmented reality” app developer has appropriately asked for consumers’ permission to access their locations, their general profile data and, in some cases, their Google accounts.

“When done appropriately, the collection and use of personal information may enhance consumers’ augmented reality experience, but we must ensure that Americans’—especially children’s—very sensitive information is protected,” Franken wrote.

A Niantic representative did not address the senator’s letter directly but pointed to a statement Monday night that said the San Francisco-based company was working on fixing an “erroneous” request by the app for full access to a user’s Google account.
“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,” the statement said.

Since its release on July 6, Pokémon Go has sent hordes of players, eyes glued to smartphone screens, scouring public sites to “catch” virtual characters, to “fight” rivals in virtual arenas called gyms and to collect related items in a game that mixes fantasy with GPS-based reality. Nintendo Co., which owns part of Niantic, saw its value skyrocket by $7.5 billion since the app launched this month, according to media accounts.

But tech watchers and privacy advocates soon began scrutinizing the amount of user information the app was gathering. Citing those concerns, Franken asked Hanke and his company to respond to six questions, including whether Niantic would consider making the app’s data collection an opt-in process for users instead of an opt-out selection. The senator also sought details on how Niantic tells parents how their children’s information is being used.

Franken has previously pressed other tech companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Apple Inc., with questions about privacy and data security practices.