Parental guide to perils of Pokemon Go

pokemon A girl and her brother view dolls of a Pokemon cartoon character at a toy shop in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district | AP

Still wondering: Pokemon who? Your kids are probably out there already, scurrying around the neighbourhood, with their noses stuck on their mobile phone screens, in pursuit of weird virtual creatures. Is it time to get worried?

Unless you have been sequestered on a desert island, cut off from all media and Internet, for the last 15 days or so, you have probably read or heard about the Pokemon Go frenzy sweeping the world. You are probably racking your brains, trying to recall when last you encountered the world Pokemon—probably when you handled that first PC in the mid 1990s. Helpful salespersons usually loaded a copy of Pokemon and Prince of Persia, along with a bootleg copy of MS Office and you might just have played briefly with those weird but colourful creatures, dreamed up by fertile imaginations in Japan. .

No, Pokemon Mk II or Pokemon Go, to give it the name of the new avatar, is not a dusted version of that mildly engaging video game, but a different kettle of fish. It is a mobile phone app, downloadable at App Store and Google Play. The creatures are the old familiar ones, but once you give the app the rights to track you through your phone's GPS, they pop up on your screen superimposed on real-world landmarks. The phone owner runs around trying to capture the Pokemon and cooperating with other players in the process. By mixing imaginary creatures with real geographic locations, the new game is the first mass application of what has come to be known as Augmented Reality, racing ahead and leaving pricey tools Google Glass and Hololens in the dust.

It would seem like a nice way to get chronic couch potatoes out in the open for some time but there may be a price to pay. For a week now, the Net has been full of doom-n-gloom scenarios of a post-Pokemon world—most of them written by 'experts' who are yet to try out the app. So let's get real, put ourselves in the position of parents who worry what their progeny is now up to and try separating Pokemon Go fact from fiction:

Pokemon Go insists you give full access to your Google account info before you can play. You risk a huge invasion of your privacy

Was true initially, but social media dealt the creators a huge rap on the knuckles, so updates have removed these all-prying eyes. Still, you do give them your user name and allow the app to keep track of your location via your phone GPS; as do most apps. No they can't read your Gmail, but it is sensible for your child to open a new Gmail account just for Pokemon, one that he or she doesn't use for emailing. Then, make them install a really strong password.

Make sure your child installs the newest version with an update that requests fewer permissions. This is easier said than done, since Pokemon Go is not officially available in India and most players are downloading from mirror sites whose authenticity we can never fully establish. Best of course, to wait till the app comes to India, which should be very soon.

Pokemon has attracted the adverse attention of scamsters and Net baddies

Sad but true. Tell your child: Play but don't spend any money. Once they can't milk cash out of few, most scamsters lose interest. You can expect the list of phone viruses and malware to shoot up soon, to target Pokemon players. Install a mobile Net security software on your child's phone.

pokemon-play People hold their mobile phones while standing in the street playing Nintendo's Pokemon Go game at Akihabara shopping district in Tokyo | AFP

Players have been lured into remote areas and robbed. Or they may trespass into no-go areas

Well, it's possible, let's concede. To be safe, layout a sandbox-type boundary for your kids, and insist they don't stray out, no matter what. If you can't trust them, insist on linking your own phone to keep track of their movements using Apple FindMyFriends or Android Google+. Make it a condition of their playing.

In the spirit of chasing a Pokemon creature, your child, eyes on phone, may stray into traffic and get injured

Again, a real danger. There is a warning on screen each time you start to play. Hammer home that message of 'safety first' and hope the young blighters will heed.

Pokemon has seen my kid's phone bill skyrocket!

Now, that's a real danger! Constant use of the phone's location tracking and all that rich graphics consumes a lot of data. If you have not done so, switch your child's plan to 'prepaid' and set the limit for a month's use. And of course, ensure they can't find the cash to recharge! Incidentally, the game is also a drain on the battery. It might be the silver lining! They have to come home to recharge.

Marshall McLuhan, the media guru once said: 'If it works, it's obsolete.' Very true.No one knows what new directions Pokemon Go and its ecosystem will take tomorrow, or next week. It is a massively huge work-in-progress and its makers can never fully control how it morphs. But as of now, this is about the best you can do to protect your kids. Leave their ears stinging with that old Raj Kapoor message: Jagte raho!

Anand Parthasarathy is a veteran IT journalist and Editor of IndiaTechOnline.com

This browser settings will not support to add bookmarks programmatically. Please press Ctrl+D or change settings to bookmark this page.
The Week