Pokémon Go data use under the spotlight in US

21 Jul 2016

The US House of Representatives has questioned Niantic on its runaway success Pokémon Go, suggesting it can “exhaust” data limits among users.

Pokémon Go has created a number of issues. A Holocaust museum has banned the game. A cemetery in the US does not think it is “appropriate decorum”. Drivers are crashing their cars while glued to the smartphone screen. There was even the need to warn users of straying into minefields.

Yet a letter penned by the US House of Representatives’ committee on energy and commerce and sent to John Hanke – CEO of Niantic, the company that built the game – deals with something entirely different: data use.

Pokémon Go

Noting the privacy and safety issues that have emerged since the explosion of Pokémon Go into the mainstream, Frank Pallone Jnr, Diana DeGette and Jan Schakowsky suggest playing the game “could exhaust a consumer’s available monthly mobile data”.

With Pokémon Go a game promoting extensive use outdoors and away from Wi-Fi, the trio are concerned that it has surpassed other social media forms in use in terms of time, battery and data – the latter the primary concern.

This appears to be because users have “reported” maxing out their monthly data usage plans in a week, with examples of people “eating through an entire family plan within a few days of playing”.

The latter reference, though, is peculiar. In the letter to Hanke, Pallone Jnr, DeGette and Schakowsky refer to an article in The Wall Street Journal, which itself linked to a tweet about the subject.

However The Wall Street Journal’s article discounts worries about data. So much so that it is titled, ‘Relax, ‘Pokémon Go’ Isn’t Eating Your Data Plan.

A straw poll of users in Ireland suggests data use in the tens of megabytes. And, given there are ‘unlimited data’ options on the market, perhaps the situation is more manageable here in comparison to the US.

In the US, T-Mobile has already offered an unlimited package for Pokémon Go users, while Verizon claims just 1pc of its overall network data traffic is taken up by the game.

Still, the US House of Representatives’ committee on energy and commerce want answers from Hanke to four key questions.

  • Are there best practices that Niantic follows to minimise the amount of data consumers use when playing Pokémon Go?
  • Has Niantic worked with wireless carriers to ensure that consumers are not unexpectedly hit with large overage charges?
  • Does Niantic conspicuously warn customers before they start using the app about how much data the app consumes?
  • Does Niantic have any mechanism in place to make sure consumers are made whole in the event that they are hit with an unexpected overage charge resulting from the use of your app?

Given the committee’s title, battery drain from the game could be a more appropriate concern.

Pokémon Go image via Krista Kennell/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic