Pokemon Go Hysteria Again Highlights How Media Is Happy To Be Gullible And Wrong — If It Means More Ad Eyeballs
from the First!-(and-wrong) dept
If you spend any time online, you’ve by now noticed that the internet this week belched forth a tidal wave of incessant chatter over Pokemon Go, Nintendo’s new augmented reality game involving scrambling around real-world locations to “catch” collectible, virtual beasts with your phone. The game is by any standard a smashing success, boosting Nintendo’s market cap by an estimated $9 billion in two days with the app rocketing to the top of both major app stores. The phenomenon is, frankly, pretty amazing:
Pokemon GO is just insane right now. This is in Central Park. It's basically been HQ for Pokemon GO. pic.twitter.com/3v2VfEHzNA
— Jonathan Perez (@IGIhosT) July 11, 2016
As with any massive phenomenon involving tech many people don’t really understand (augmented reality in this case), the news wires immediately lit up with all manner of hysteria over the game’s impact on the real world, with much of this impact wholly imagined as sites rushed to pursue search trends and ad eyeballs. The media being, well, the media, one hoax website was able to get countless news outlets to parrot all manner of fake stories about Pokemon Go, from claims that brothers were killing brothers to reports that major traffic accidents were being caused by players running out into the middle of traffic to collect creatures that technically don’t exist.
An ouroboros of phantoms chasing phantoms.
The media also stumbled all over itself to pounce on claims that the Pokemon Go app was a privacy nightmare, busily reading your e-mail and digging through an ocean of personal data that would any second now be in the hands of nefarious hackers. Most of these reports had to be subsequently walked back with updates after analysts actually bothered to study the app and reporters started (gasp) actually asking questions about just what the app was really doing:
“But in a call with Gizmodo, Reeve backtracked his claims, saying he wasn?t ?100 percent sure? his blog post was true. On the call, Reeve also admitted that he had never built an application that uses Google account permissions, and had never tested the claims he makes in the post.
Cybersecurity expert and CEO of Trail of Bits Dan Guido has also cast serious doubt on Reeve?s claim, saying Google tech support told him ?full account access? does not mean a third party can read or send or send email, access your files or anything else Reeve claimed. It means Niantic can only read biographical information like email address and phone number.”
While the app did appear to be asking for broader Google account permissions than was necessary (on iOS and less frequently on Android), both Google and app-maker Niantic issued a statement noting this was a bug they’re busy fixing and that no personal information had actually been accessed:
“We recently discovered that the Pok?mon Go account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pok?mon Go only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your user ID and e-mail address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google account information, in line with the data we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pok?mon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pok?mon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pok?mon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”
And while a bug that gives broader permissions than necessary is bad, it was far from the “hacker’s dream” and “privacy trainwreck” portrayed by dozens upon dozens of different outlets. Meanwhile, most of the data being collected is a fraction of the data being hoovered up and sold daily by your wireless carrier, something routinely forgotten by those laboring under the illusion that privacy in the cellular era still actually exists.
None of this is to say that many of the stories bubbling up amidst the Pokemon Go chaos aren’t incredibly interesting. Watching police having to remind players that the laws of the state (and of reality) still apply while playing the game has proven pretty fascinating. Interesting too are conversations about whether African Americans and Muslim Americans will have a decidedly different and potentially unpleasant experience playing the game in the land of shoot first, think later law enforcement. But the most interesting story remains the meta narrative of a press so focused on profitability and being first that it couldn’t give a flying Aerodactyl about actually being right.