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Pokemon Go… Away?

18/07/2016 | Suzanne Hu

Those on social media will already be aware of the gaming phenomenon of Pokemon Go, released recently in the US, and last week in the UK. For everyone else, start getting used to looking at the tops of people’s heads…

For those not in the know, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game: as players walk around, they receive a live view of their surroundings (via their smartphone’s GPS and camera) over which Pokemon (animated characters) appear superimposed. The aim is to catch as many Pokemon as possible, then train them up to battle other players’ Pokemon at “gyms” which are located at public landmarks or buildings in the real world.

Whilst the game has been lauded both for its capitalisation of augmented reality and the physical activity factor, it has also caused controversy and raised a number of potential/actual legal issues: invasion of privacy from the game’s initial requirement to access a player’s entire Google account; invasion of privacy and harassment from players congregating outside people’s homes; and involvement in criminal offences (there are already reports of criminals using the “lure” element of the game to rob players, and concerns that the “team” element could facilitate child grooming).

However, it is not only individuals that may be affected. Businesses may too, for example should the work premises become a Pokemon Go location this could be disruptive to daily business, or there may be decreased productivity from employees who either play the game at work or take long breaks in order to do so.

As to the latter, businesses could take a similar approach to that outlined at section 3 of our previous article “Are Employers Ready for Euro 2016?” by reminding employees that any excessive time-wasting will be dealt with in accordance with the employer’s standard policies.

Should your work premises become a Pokemon Go location, it would appear that little can be done in the immediate future. The UK’s harassment laws do not apply to businesses and, whilst they do have privacy rights, they are more limited than those afforded to individuals such that fleeting (albeit unwelcome) gatherings of gamers is unlikely to meet the privacy thresholds. Either by design or oversight, the game’s designers have put the onus on individuals/companies to request that their home/workplace be removed from Pokemon Go, rather than ensuring first that those would be appropriate locations in the first place. Even then, the game currently only provides for removal requests if locations present “immediate physical danger”; apparently, requests “for other reasons cannot be addressed at this time”. So for now, you may simply have to resort to polite notices to the public asking them to stay at a respectful distance and move on quickly.

Of course, your business may welcome the increased footfall, particularly if the premises are a retail or entertainment venue. The game is very much still in its infancy, and it is easy to foresee businesses paying to have their premises selected to be “gyms” or other Pokemon Go key locations. Any businesses interested in this should keep a watchful eye on developments in order to be ahead of, or more appropriately in, the game.

The author would like to make it clear that she does not, and does not intend to, play Pokemon Go as she has far better things to spend her time on. After all, those Sims don’t feed themselves.

Suzanne Hu is an Associate in our Dispute Resolution department. If you require any assistance with dispute resolution, please do not hesitate to contact Suzanne on 0207 955 1441.

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