Director Oliver Stone appeared at San Diego Comic Con on Thursday to promote his film Snowden. While on the topic of surveillance, the panel, also including Zachary Quinto and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was asked to opine on the Pokémon Go phenomenon.
Quinto offered a mild critique of gadget-obsession, but Stone’s reply was much more intense:
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The data-gathering protocols and privacy implications of Pokémon Go have been the object of intense scrutiny since its release. Some versions of the game initially asked for extensive permissions on users’ devices, though those settings have since been scaled back. Senator Al Franken has asked developer Niantic to explain how and why it collected user data.
Stone, known for conspiracy-minded and anti-authoritarian films like Natural Born Killers and JFK, spells out the big worry underlying such questions in characteristically robust terms. Pokémon Go‘s gameplay is based on users physically moving around, which could become a huge new trove of information for advertisers looking to profile and target consumers. Observers called out those risks when Pokémon Go’s precursor game, Ingress, emerged in 2012, and one writer described that game as “an elaborate ruse” to motivate players to generate data for then-parent company Google (GOOG).
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But with Pokémon Go, the manipulation Stone is worried about has been much more immediate, widespread, and rudimentary than wonky futurists would probably have predicted. Rather than deploying some hidden algorithm that profiles users based on their movement, the game allows businesses to buy and place ‘lures,’ which generate Pokémon for users to catch. That has turned out to be a very, very effective marketing tool for retailers and other brick-and-mortar businesses.
So, while he’s not exactly the East German Stasi, Pikachu is clearly changing the way we act.