Last week, as I was walking down a busy street, I was nearly knocked over by a young woman making a ninety-degree turn while staring at her phone. Rather than ignore me and keep walking, which is what usually happens when one is a victim of “text distraction,” she looked up with a smile and said, “I’m so sorry! I just saw a Rattata behind that pole!”
Luckily, I knew that she was, like many others these days, playing Pokémon GO.
Released on July 5, the game has quickly become hugely popular – it is highly participatory, it’s free, it is multi-generational, it gets you outside and it has a sense of adventure. It already has more daily users than Twitter. It’s an entirely new idea in gaming, and from all accounts, it’s fun to play.
Unfortunately, when people start walking around, eyes glued to their smartphone and living, at least in the moment, in another universe, they end up falling off cliffs, trespassing on private property and closed public buildings or becoming so distracted that they become easy prey for thieves. There have already been several cases of serious car accidents caused by drivers trying to take down Dragonite or Geodude spotted in the middle of the street!
There is another serious danger that players expose themselves to when they sign the “terms and conditions” in order to play the game – the exposure of their online data. The app allows the company access to your entire Google account, including mail, files, documents and contacts. The only other way to access the game is to use the PokémonGo.com site, but they have halted all new signups due to the unprecedented popularity.
Why We Should Read the Terms of Service
Reading the terms and conditions, or terms of service, on every app you download is a tedious task. Most people don’t have the time or the patience to read every word of the many terms and conditions that we routinely and mindlessly click through on our phones and computers.
And by signing, you are legally bound.
In the game’s terms of service, Niantic (the software developer) explicitly states that you should “…be aware of your surroundings and play safely. You agree that your use of the App and play of the game is at your own risk, and it is your responsibility to maintain such health, liability, hazard, personal injury, medical, life, and other insurance policies as you deem reasonably necessary for any injuries that you may incur while using the Services.” (The suggestion that you take out a personal insurance policy should act as a warning!)
Users waive their rights to a jury trial and any class action against the developer, unless they explicitly opt out of the agreement.
If you play Pokémon GO, within thirty (30) days of downloading it, you need to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Arbitration Opt-out Notice” in which you specifically say that you are keeping the right to litigate any dispute with Niantic, Nintendo and any other party relating in any way to Pokémon GO.
Alternatively, you can physically write the game developer at 2 Bryant St., Ste. 220, San Francisco, CA, 94105.
It’s clear that this hot new virtual app can lead to real world dangers, so take the time to make sure that you have as much legal protection as possible when you sign up.
Not Just Pokémon GO
Whether it is a cell phone contract, a lease on an apartment, a new car purchase contract, a credit card application, a Facebook account or buying or selling on eBay, we click or sign on terms of service, or “user agreements” dozens of times a year. We seldom read everything thoroughly, or if we do, understand the legal implications. When making major purchases or entering into any kind of user contract, read the terms and conditions carefully before you sign or click. Your diligence could pay off in the end.
And as always, talk to friends and family, and pass it on!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.