Petition puts down profiting off child players of Pokemon Go

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood wants Niantic, Inc., producers of Pokemon GO, to protect children who play the popular new game from commercial exploitation.

CCFC, in a petition online, urged Niantic to not lure children under 13 to visit sponsored “PokeStops” and “Pokemon Gyms,” or deliver to them any targeted advertisements based on their location.

Pokemon GO is a location-based augmented reality game that requires players to visit specific real world places — called “PokeStops” and “Pokemon Gyms” — in order to capture, battle and train virtual creatures.

Niantic says Pokemon GO encourages players to “Get Up, Get Out, and Explore.”

But Niantic is selecting some PokeStops and Gyms based on paid sponsorships, using the game’s appeal to entice customers to brick and mortar establishments, and McDonald’s is one of the first sponsors.

In Japan, every McDonald’s is a Pokemon GO hot spot.

Once children playing the game arrive at the restaurant, they’re enticed to buy Happy Meals with Pokemon GO toys, the petitioners protested.

“No child should be lured to McDonald’s or any other sponsor’s establishment while playing Pokemon GO,” Josh Golin, executive director of CCFC, said in a news release. “If Niantic wants to cash in on the game’s enormous popularity by herding players to its sponsors’ locations, it should exclude children from this type of marketing.”

Angela J. Campbell, a Georgetown law professor and CCFC board member, stated in the release, “It is the height of hypocrisy for Niantic to tout Pokemon GO as a means to get children outside, then use the game to sell Happy Meals.”

Pokemon GO collects a wealth of data about its players, including their geolocation, as they play the game.

So CCFC also urged Niantic to refrain from delivering personalized ads to children based on the data.

Because all players are required to provide their birthdate at sign-up, Niantic can identify and protect players under 13, the advocacy group said.

In addition to advertising concerns, advocates and experts have noted that Pokemon GO presents a host of threats to users’ safety and privacy, particularly for younger players.

“This is a watershed moment not only for Pokemon GO, but for the burgeoning augmented reality industry,” Golin said. “Will Niantic take the precautions necessary to make Pokemon GO a safe environment for children? Or will AR just be another gimmick to make kids ‘Get up, get out, and go to McDonald’s?”