Pokémon Go – super spy & potential terror tool
DEBKAfile, Jul 22 2016
Masses of people wandering around all kinds of improbable places chasing animated cartoon figures on their cell phones are not zombies; they are players in the fast spreading craze of “Pokémon Go,” the augmented reality game which has attracted millions of users since its release at the beginning of July. However, seasoned intelligence watchers say that far from being just a game gone viral, it has more sinister uses: for instance, as a novel visual espionage system created by one of the world’s top spy agencies. To play the game, smart phone users have to download the Pokémon Go app (for free) from Apple stores or Google. When the game starts, the smart phone’s video camera and GPS system go into action. The user has to hunt “pokémons”: animated figures in various shapes that appear on the phone’s screen, dodging through real landscapes such as streets, airports, museums or observation decks atop skyscrapers. Pokémon Go, whose technology is so advanced that it may revolutionize future marketing methods, is based on figures from a 1990s card game. It was developed by SF-based Niantic Labs, which was founded in 2010 as a Google start-up. Its first product was Ingress.
In 2001, nine years earlier, founder John Hanke had established the mapping firm Keyhole, funded by venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, which was controlled by the NSA and acquired several years later by Google. The linkage of these companies to each other, to Google and to the NSA leaves little doubt about the real purpose of the game and how the vast amounts of collected data may be used, primarily as a quintessential operational spy tool. Controllers of the game’s data collection network are also provided with GPS to pinpoint the exact location of millions of users at any given time together with access to their video cameras. Thus, users of the app will be unknowingly engaging in intelligence gathering with the help of photography from every angle of nearly every location on earth in the course of chasing the pokémons that were released as their prey. At least one of the features of the game was apparently created under the direction of an intelligence service. Niantic has given various companies permission to publicize the presence of pokémons around shopping centers, restaurants, museums and other sites. It then becomes a simple matter to spread the word on social networks that a rare breed of pokémons has appeared on the wall of a nuclear power plant in a targeted city. Hundreds, if not thousands, of addicts would head for the new location, clicking their video cameras and GPS systems as they go. This data would be beamed instantly to the monitors of the game’s clandestine controllers. Nintendo Go and its potential for luring players to high-security and off-limits military facilities also makes it a major hazard in the hands of criminal organizations and terrorists. A situation in which large numbers of people innocently searching for pokémons with their eyes glued to their smart phones are led into a trap by terrorists can no longer be dismissed as a fantastic scenario.