Nintendo Cracking Down On Pokemon Go 'Pirates' Despite The Game Being Free

from the overprotectionism-i-choose-you! dept

In these past few weeks, the world has become divided into two camps: those who are sick of hearing anything about Nintendo's new smash mobile hit, Pokemon Go, and those who can't get enough of it. While the media tags along for the ride and with the app shooting up the charts as the craze takes hold, it's worth keeping in mind that this is Pokemon and Nintendo we're talking about, two connected groups with a crazy history of savagely protecting anything to do with their intellectual property.

Still, it was strange to learn that Nintendo is issuing all kinds of takedown requests to "pirate" versions of the Android app that are available roughly all over the place. The reason I wrapped that word in quotation marks above is that the Pokemon Go app is entirely free and even the unofficial versions of the app still point the user back to the app's official store for any in-game purchases.

Nintendo is obviously not happy with this black market distribution. Although it doesn’t seem to hurt its stock value, the company is targeting the piracy issue behind the scenes. TorrentFreak spotted several takedown requests on behalf of Nintendo that were sent to Google Blogspot and Google Search this week. The notices list various links to pirated copies of the game, asking Google to remove them.

Thus far the efforts have done little to stop the distribution. The files are still widely shared on torrent sites and various direct download services. The copies on APKmirror.com remain online as well.

So why is Nintendo engaging in a losing war against its own popularity instead of deciding to spend the time counting the money that is streaming in from its smash hit instead? Well, the speculation is that this has all to do with the geographic release windows for the app.

With no commercial gain to be had from stopping people playing the game, I’m guessing Nintendo is just trying to keep it in the hands of users in countries where Pokémon Go has been officially released. Maybe to cut back on stuff like the problems some Korean gamers are having right now.

The issue appears to be that the game doesn't really function in countries where it hasn't been officially released yet. This means that users of the unofficial apps in these countries are likely to find that no Pokemon exist to be collected, or are at least far more sparse than they will be once the release is official in that country. This has led to some minor frustration from those who downloaded the app from an unofficial source, as they wander around doing essentially nothing.

But so what? That isn't really Nintendo's problem and there's no way that the company will take on any ill-will from those downloading unofficial copies of the game where it hasn't been released yet. The app, keep in mind, is a free one and points to Nintendo's in-game store for purchases whether it's from the official app or the unofficial one. There's literally no money lost in this in any way and, it can easily be argued, the widespread availability from many different sites may well be super-charging the viral nature of the product. That should be a huge win for Nintendo, as the company gains new and free distribution channels at zero cost.

If this is about the geo-restricted release dates, I sort of get it, but I only sort of get it because I already know how crazy-insane Nintendo is in terms of controlling every last aspect of every last product it offers. The company just can't help itself, even when it can be argued the "pirated" apps are doing way more good than harm.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 6:21pm

    A deafening sigh!

    I know this will be a HUGE relief to both Pokemon and Nintendo, but I have absolutely no interest in anything related to either Pokemon nor Nintendo. Pirated, not pirated, free, or otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2016 @ 6:27pm

    Pirated APKs can contain malware

    Many downloadable APKs have been modified to include malware and or tracking software along with the rest of the program. Example:
    https://www.proofpoint.com/us/threat-insight/post/droidjack-uses-side-load-backdoored-pokemo n-go-android-app

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TKnarr (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 7:14pm

      Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

      This is very likely. Mobile malware's a big hot-button issue at the moment, and the single biggest way mobile users acquire it's by installing software from sources other than the official stores (ie. third-party stores or side-loading).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      xtian (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 7:43pm

      Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

      Yet another example of TechDirt basing their stories on other news stories and imaginary legal motives without bothering to research the tech side of things. Is there no one on the TD staff with any engineering knowledge? Does no one read actual tech news rather than non-technical reporting on tech industry topics?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        xtian (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 7:48pm

        Re: Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

        There are also other security and privacy issues. If someone is distributing a pirated version of the game, you can't rely on the app being updated properly, you can't be sure that the app is connecting to the proper servers, etc.

        And while we're at it, a free app does not equal FOSS. It's still Nintendo's property, and isn't licensed to other people to do what they wish about it. If an unofficial instance of its app encounters problems, because it hasn't been updated, then Nintendo will get the blame.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2016 @ 9:09am

          Re: Re: Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

          Along with the issues already raised, there's another one, and this actually gives a somewhat reasonable reason for the geofencing:

          Not only do different countries have different laws regarding trespass and what is public space, there are real security issues to be worked out prior to releasing in a country. There are places you don't want to be luring Go players into, as their Gym location might also happen to have less savoury real-life uses.

          And aside from that even, Nintendo likes to have a "just works" deployment of their products. So what happens when they're expecting a certain load on their servers and a certain volume of tracking in a geographic area, and then they suddenly get flooded with server requests for/from non-vetted areas? I'm sure they've tested things out with geoip spoofing, but they need to build up their server infrastructure to keep pace with the physical locations they're deploying the game. It could be a really bad gaming experience for the legit players if others are taking not only their bandwidth, but buying things in the store, devaluing their "leg up".

          That's not to say that all this is right, but I think it all plays a part in why Nintendo is attempting to suppress pirated APKs. They want to protect their image of being safe and friendly.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 16 Jul 2016 @ 10:37pm

      Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

      That’s easy enough to check. Haven’t people heard of digital signatures?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2016 @ 10:04am

        Re: Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

        "Check the digital signature" is always a pretty ivory-tower argument. Can you even see and/or check MD5s of apps that are on the Google Play store, or can you only do it with side-loaded APK files? And even if you can on the store proper, if someone's installing what they think is the correct application from the Google Play store, they'd just be checking the signature against the "fake" application in the first place...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2016 @ 12:03pm

          Re: Re: Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

          Do you know how digital signatures work? Do you know the difference between a checksum and a signature?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2016 @ 9:18am

      Re: Pirated APKs can contain malware

      The funny thing is the same day as this article was posted, Ars Technica posts http://arstechnica.com/security/2016/07/fake-pokemon-go-app-on-google-play-infects-phones-with-scree nlocker/

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 6:27pm

    Part of it is probably the thinking of we can't change the release windows we have set.
    The other part might be the fear that because they haven't ramped up to cover those areas yet people will end up with more server lagging and anger over the game not working right.

    Consumers are not very rational, and if they could get their hands on the game they expect it to work. Given how rapidly the game took the worlds attention span online, one would hope they are scrambling to get worldwide up and running ASAP rather than trying to stay the course and keep issuing takedowns that won't accomplish much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2016 @ 7:31pm

    Does Nintendo need a reason?

    It's not free as in freedom so they can restrict it however they wish.

    Some smart commenters have already come up with the obvious reasons overlooked by OP.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2016 @ 7:33pm

    The game has been plagued by server issues since day one. Adding new regions before they're ready is effectively a DDOS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jigsy (profile), 15 Jul 2016 @ 8:46pm

    I'm guessing this is in between Nintendo sending DMCA takedown notices for explicit fan artwork...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jul 2016 @ 9:12pm

    Don't spend waste time and money on the 2-3%. Working on building a better product for the 97-98%.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2016 @ 12:33am

    It's working fine in Indonesia altough we download from apkmirror. I think nintendo try to kill malware.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2016 @ 3:58am

    I thought Tim was a gamer, malware is all over the apks,

    Nintendo has a right to protect the integrity of their property.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2016 @ 4:46pm

      Re:

      Why do I get the feeling it's the same person posting over and over under different IP addresses.

      Seriously, if so many people agree with you then where is your massively successful blog. Go troll there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2016 @ 5:43am

        Re: Re:

        Do you really want to read a boring blog where everyone agrees with your opinion? How dull.

        The fact is Techdirt is too quick to jump on any protection of IP that they fail to do even the most cursory analysis of the situation.

        Many people have already pointed out the very good reasons Nintendo may be doing this.

        1. Malware is a serious and real threat when downloading applications from unauthorised sources.

        2. The Pokemon Go servers have been overloaded by the huge volumes of players they are seeing. Not to mention they are also having to deal with DDOS attacks. It's very likely that a staggered roll out is needed to ensure that the infrastructure can be stood up to cope with the demand.

        3. There are laws to comply with in each region.

        4. Nintendo may have regional variations for how they monetize their application and want to have that in place before releasing it.

        In short, there are many very good reasons they are taking the action they have, but as usual Techdirt has jumped on the IP protection bashing bandwagon without any critical assessment at all.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2016 @ 7:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Do you really want to read a boring blog where everyone agrees with your opinion? How dull."

          People who disagree will visit and comment, assuming you don't ban them (which is what has typically happened on pro-IP blogs since most of the commenters there do disagree with the blogger and Pro-Ip shills can't tolerate dissent if they are able to prohibit it. This is nothing new and has been discussed here before).

          You can't start a successful blog and must freeload off of the audience here exactly because no one wants to hear your opinion. Techdirt has a large audience exactly because people like myself come here and want to read what Techdirt, and not you, have to say. We won't visit your blog, unless it's to post criticism where possible, exactly because we don't care about what you have to say. You come here exactly because this is where the audience is and not on a pro-IP blog. The audience is here because the audience is interested in what Techdirt has to say, not what you have to say. The logic is sound and your logic is twisted at best.

          As to your points they have been addressed but you choose to ignore that. Not responding to every point repeatedly doesn't imply an inability to respond to them.

          1: If someone voluntarily downloads unofficial software from an unknown third party they take responsibility for anything that happens to them. They should know better and they took that risk voluntarily. It shouldn't reflect badly on Nintendo and if someone is so unreasonable as to blame Nintendo for their decision to download bad third party software then perhaps that's the type of volatile, bad, customers that Nintendo doesn't want. Those people will be the exception, not the rule. Not everyone is as dumb as you as to get so easily confused.

          and Nintendo doesn't have to go after everyone if they want, they can go after only the malware creators. and really, it should be more like the ISPs or perhaps the website providers or anti-virus companies or operating system providers to fix their operating system or maybe even law enforcement to go after malware, not Nintendo. Malware can present itself as anything.

          2: Then we are criticizing them for not planning ahead accordingly. We can do that. Nintendo should have probably done a better job forecasting their workload and made better investments earlier into creating better servers. Yes it would cost more, it's a profits vs consumer satisfaction thing. If they choose profits over consumer satisfaction then we get to criticize them for that.

          3: Laws do not absolve them of criticism for making anti-consumer decisions

          4: Sure, they wish to put their profits over consumer satisfaction and convenience. That's something consumers can legitimately criticize them for.

          "there are many very good reasons they are taking the action they have"

          All of which are good reasons we may criticize Nintendo. Yes they can make decisions for reasons X, Y, and Z but if consumers don't like those decisions we may then criticize them. That's how it works. Perhaps Nintendo should plan better ahead of time next time if they don't like criticism.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 18 Jul 2016 @ 7:34am

      Re:

      Timothy IS a gamer, gamer enough that I have in the past seen malware trotted out as a defense too many times to believe the excuse moving forward.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wereisjessicahyde (profile), 16 Jul 2016 @ 4:43am

    One could argue that even when Pokemon can be found you just "wander around doing essentially nothing" And yes I'm a miserable old sod.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 16 Jul 2016 @ 8:27am

    Analytics is a factor as well

    By having the game released outside of the store, they also can lost some of the analytics of game installs, de-installs, crash reports, and other things available via Google Play.

    Still, the best solution isn't to issue takedowns, but hurry up and make it available to all these other countries as fast as possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rapnel (profile), 16 Jul 2016 @ 8:35am

    Nintendo should build a torrent with access to a checksum available on their website. That might be an example of acclimating to your surroundings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2016 @ 8:57am

    Maybe malware infected installs?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2016 @ 1:12pm

    Overprotection?

    It's a game targeted at children that requires access to GPS, camera, and google account, with a primary mechanic of luring people to physical locations, while genenerating a massive, intimate data trail.

    You really can't think of *any* reason these companies minght want to take down bogus copies other that overzealous IP enforcement?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 16 Jul 2016 @ 11:07pm

    never thought the article author would troll people.

    After reading the comments I can only assume Tim is trolling everyone by acting ignorant about why Nintendo would want to take down unofficial copies of the game.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2016 @ 7:32pm

      Re: never thought the article author would troll people.

      Again, if you think Tim is trolling then you're welcome to leave. Absolutely no one will miss you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2016 @ 6:18am

    Since nobody mentionned it yet :

    One of the reason is fan outcry : People who are playing the game in countries where it's not available yet are gaining an advantage on players who'd rather wait till it's officially out.
    I have seen multiple comments about hoping nintendo will ban "cheaters who started earlier".

    They need to show those whom wait that they are right, but they can't also go and ban die-hard fan who couldn't wait.

    Going (only) after those providers is a win-win for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Jul 2016 @ 6:18am

    Release the damn thing globally already... Problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Audia Nina, 20 Jul 2016 @ 9:02pm

    Nice

    you're article is nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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