Pokemon Go creator, augmented reality advocates defend privacy practices to Senate panel

First published on MLex Digital Risk 16 November 16. By Xiumei Dong and Amy Miller.

The creator of Pokemon Go told a US Senate panel Wednesday that protecting users' privacy is a top priority and that it doesn't collect or sell any information for advertising purposes.

Protecting users' privacy and data is critical for augmented reality companies that make products that impose virtual content onto the real world, industry advocates told the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The benefits of augmented reality extend far beyond games like Pokemon Go, they said, noting that it's creating jobs in a wide range of industries, from construction to automobile manufacturing.

The emerging industry is "committed to meaningful privacy and data security protections," said Stanley Pierre-Louis, general counsel for the Entertainment Software Association. He urged the committee to avoid passing regulations that could stifle innovation, saying that current privacy and data protection laws are sufficient and flexible.

"We have adopted practices that go well beyond what is required by law," he said.

But when it comes to cybersecurity and stopping hackers, "more help would be welcome," particularly for small companies, said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, developer of Pokemon Go.

The awareness of augmented reality applications soared when the mobile game Pokémon Go was released this year. The game lets players hunt for virtual Pokemon in the real world through GPS technology and device cameras.

"It is been our policy to collect only the minimum amount of data that's necessary to operate our game," Hanke said. As a gaming developer, Niantic does not have the incentive to use and sell the collected personal identifiable information to a third party, such as advertisers.

Hanke said the game was introduced fully in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires Pokemon Go players under the age of 13 to have their parents' consent to play the game.

"Many of us at Niantic are parents, and protecting our children is very important to us," he said.

However, when it comes to protecting the company from sophisticated international cyberattacks, Hanke said, as a small startup with 75 employees, the company does not have the resources to defend against all the threats.

US Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, asked what could be done if someone were to hack into augmented reality programs used on a plane and created a digital flock of birds that appear to be flying into the windshield.

It's up to companies to conduct extensive threat modeling to prepare for anything that could happen, said Ryan Calo, assistant professor of law at the University of Washington.

"It's incumbent that they are doing threat modeling," he said.