Is Pokémon Go Safe?
A parent’s guide

Words by
Abby Alger

JUL 03, 2023

Is Pokémon Go Safe?
A parent’s guide

As a child, I remember Pokémon, (which is short for Pocket Monster, I recently learned) becoming a huge craze. Pokémon card battles at recess were taken seriously and the Game Boy game was on every kid’s wish list.

Pokémon’s latest evolution came in 2016 when Pokémon Go was launched in the Apple and Google app stores. 

It became an overnight success, with over 100 million downloads within the first month and, at the time of writing this, had 79,669,227 active players.

pokeball about clauncher

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game made for mobile phones where players catch, train, and battle virtual Pokémon in the real world. 

The game can be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play store.

The app uses GPS tracking to know where players are while playing the game. It’s designed so players need to explore the real-world to play the game.

psyduck on the street with pokeball
(Image: Mirrorpix)

Is Pokémon Go Safe?

Like any game, Pokémon Go has pros and cons for players, especially kids and teens. It is rated for users 9 years or older and it’s estimated 22% of users are children.

While it does encourage exercise and has players exploring the real-world, it holds risks of predation and potential accidents when kids are not aware of their surroundings playing the game.

egg on pokemon go
(Image: Facebook / Rusty Cage)

Does Pokémon Go count as exercise?

Pokémon Go has been praised for getting players off their couch and encouraging exercise. Pokémon Go players must go to locations called “PokéStops” to gather resources and they must walk around to catch Pokémon.

If a player finds a Pokémon egg, they have to walk a certain distance in order for the egg to hatch. Awards are given to players for walking longer distances.

Stranger danger

Many predators use video games to lure children, and Pokémon Go is no exception.

To battle with another player, you originally both had to physically be at a landmark designated as a Pokémon Go “Gym.” These are not actual gyms, but can be real-world churches, libraries, businesses who want extra advertising or foot traffic, public parks, or other locations.

While this encourages face-to-face interactions, it can be a risk to meet up with strangers, especially if a child is playing alone.

Police have warned about robbers and sex offenders using Pokémon Go to lure and attack their victims. New York banned sex offenders from using Pokémon Go, but the other 49 states have no such legislation.

Recently, Pokémon Go began allowing you to battle others without being at a gym as long as you are an “ultra” or “best” friend in the game.

However, a friend in Pokémon Go can be a stranger in real life. And to earn these designations, you must trade virtual gifts that show your location for a period of 30 days straight to become an “ultra” friend, and 90 days to become a “best” friend.

pokemon go gift
(Image: Pokémon Go Help Center)

These gift exchanges provide location information on what Pokestops a player has visited recently, which can give information on where the child may live or frequently visit. Parents and kids can be cautious about only sharing gifts with those you know are safe.

Physical dangers

Unfortunately, Pokémon Go has caused traffic accidents, injuries and even deaths. At the peak of its popularity in 2016, it was linked to 150,000 car accidents and 256 deaths in just a 148 day span.

Pokémon Go is an example of a phone user being so focused on their screen that they are not aware of their surroundings. This raises the risk of putting themselves in harm’s way while walking across roads or going into unsafe areas in hopes of finding a Pokémon there.

A solution is for players to turn on the game’s vibrate option to alert them when a Pokémon appears so they can look up and watch where they are going while playing.

Data collection

Pokémon Go collects your personal information. To start an account, you need an email address, or you can join using your existing Facebook or Google account information.

The app collects user information, including your geospatial location data, your name, age, and any other data you provide if you signed up using Facebook or Google.

The game provides two experiences—one fully virtual world that looks like a cartoon, and the other where the Pokémon are viewed in your real world background. This could be potentially dangerous if the app captures private parts of a home or identifies landmarks that show where a child lives.

spearow on pokemon go
(Image: Josh Smith)

There are in-app purchases, which can hit the wallet and also collect more sensitive data from the player.

According to the company privacy policy agreement, user data collected by Pokémon Go is a “business asset” and their parent company, Niantic labs, has the right to share data with third parties.

Parental controls

Parental controls have been added that allow parents to disable what personal information Pokémon Go collects on child accounts. Parents can also disable or allow social features including gifting, friends, trading, and sponsored PokeStops.

When social features are enabled, the Parental Portal provides information on your child’s profile, what online friends they made, and limited information about the locations your child visited to collect Pokémon or gifts.

mother and son laughing at phone

What Parents Can Do

If your child isn’t ready to safely navigate Pokémon Go or other online games, Gabb phones offer a way to connect without the risks or distractions. Our phones were built to help kids learn how to safely use technology without access to games like Pokémon go or social media. 

Safe video games can bring families together when precautions are taken. Gabb has a guide to help parents and kids game safely.

Some parents may choose to only have it downloaded on the adult’s phone to use it as a bonding experience as you play together. This also takes away the risks of a child playing alone.

If a parent decides their child is ready to play Pokémon Go on their own, they can minimize risks by: 

  • using the parental controls and only allow friends on the app that you know and trust in real life.
  • ensuring they always play with a family member or trusted friend present so they are never alone 
  • limiting where they are allowed to go while playing
  • encouraging them to look up when walking by using the vibrate mode to notify them when Pokémon are present
  • ensuring any child who is old enough to drive knows not to play while driving.

Do you have any additional thoughts or tips for Pokémon Go players? Share them in the comments.


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