There are certain places Pokémon won’t be able to go if the governor of New York state has his way.
Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation last week preventing paroled sex offenders from using Pokémon Go in his state, on the basis of child protection.
The game app, almost equally popular with children and adults, digitally imposes Pokémon characters onto real-world surroundings. Users view this mishmash of virtual characters and reality through their phone screens. The characters are planted in various locations, worldwide, and the user’s goal is to find them.
Cuomo wrote to the game’s developer, Niantic Inc, sharing the state’s sex offender registry and seeking the developer’s co-operation in policing the proposed measure.
“Working together, we can ensure that this danger today does not escalate into a tragedy tomorrow,” he wrote.
This came just days after the release of a report by New York state senators Jeffrey Klein and Diane Savino titled Protecting Our Children: How Pokémon Go and Augmented Reality Games Expose Children To Sex Offenders.
The report highlighted the incidence of Pokémon Go characters near registered sex offenders’ homes. Despite this, there was no evidence linking the app with known pedophilia cases.
Parenting blogger Lenore Skenazy took issue with Cuomo’s seemingly interventionist approach. Writing for Reason.com, she lambasted his ‘fear Pokémongering’. As evidence for her stance, she cited the long-disproved ‘stranger danger’ theory – children are much more likely to be hurt by those they know than by strangers – as well as a “shockingly low” recidivism rate amongst sex offenders.
Yet even if Skenazy spoke the truth, why should people care about former sex offenders’ rights, particularly their entitlement to Pokémon Go? Human Rights Watch said it’s a matter of fundamental human rights. In its study of US sex offender policies, the first comprehensive one ever undertaken, they concluded that, “Laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses may not protect children from sex crimes but do lead to harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders.”
In the Australian context, we need not grapple with this legal and ethical issue. To date, only general warnings that emphasise road safety exist. For instance, the Department of Communications cautions people to “…remain aware of your external environment when playing Pokemon Go”, while the Australian Communications and Media Authority takes a child-focus in its caution: “…recent media coverage has highlighted risks, including locations that could be unsuitable for young players … child players being too young to play the game unsupervised …[and] the real risk of interacting with others who are not suitable for the child”.
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