Pokemon may be a no-go in certain 'sensitive' areas
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Pokemon may be a no-go in certain 'sensitive' areas

Government struggles with how best to control emerging augmented reality technology

Since Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game hunting for Pokemon, has arrived in Thailand, it has been greatly used as a financial and income booster at certain businesses -- from cosmetic shops to restaurants.

The game is without a doubt an effective marketing tool that helps boost the economy. New business ideas have also been initiated such as a transport service offering passengers a ride to catch Pokemon while some tour packages also promote Pokemon as a part of the trip's attraction. But of course, there are two sides to everything. While staring at their smartphone screen, players have to be aware of their surroundings otherwise they could encounter some dangers. The government has recently expressed its concern over the game's security and as to what kind of consequences it could cause.

A basic explanation about Pokemon Go for those who are not yet familiar with the game -- it requires a smartphone and an actual walk (or any mode of transport) in search of cartoon monsters. With augmented reality (AR) and GPS technology, Pokemons are around us but they are visible only if looking through the screen. However, the virtual Pokemon will appear only when players venture into real-life places and, sometimes, they could enter sensitive areas.

The authority's concern starting from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who said state agencies will consider whether the game harms security and causes public danger. Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) also was assigned to inspect whether the game's server invades users' privacy.

And then we have the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) secretary-general Takorn Tantasith who has demanded no-go zones for four restricted areas due to complaints concerning safety and trespassing. The demand came within less than a week after the game was released. The area includes state properties, temples, private properties and dangerous areas including roads, waterways and railways. The NBTC also asked True, who holds exclusive rights for Pokemon in Thailand, to co-operate with game developer Niantic in requesting them to remove sensitive areas from the game's scope. The NBTC secretary-general also has an idea of restricting playing at night time as it could be dangerous.

Of course, it's understandable to ask players to not enter certain areas that require tranquillity and privacy or asking them to not play in certain situations. There are cases in Cambodia where authorities asked people to stop playing the game in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, while in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan, Pokemons were removed from the area.

However, the approach the NBTC is attempting to take, by asking the developer to remove Pokemons from some places, seems hardly practical given "dangerous areas including roads" as they put it seems to cover expansive spaces.

Pokemon Go has become the fastest phenomenon among augmented reality games. But as this virtual reality world becomes so real it may make authorities panic as it struggles to take control of it.

The conspiracy theories -- sensitive data being collected through smartphone cameras while playing and that it can be harmful to national security -- have also been mooted.

Undoubtedly, the cyberworld can sometimes be dangerous. Either with or without Pokemon Go, in the future we will surely have new innovations that make use of augmented reality technology which will present another challenge for the state to cope with.

Pokemon Go may just come and go like other fads or it could be constantly developed and stay for awhile. But instead of trying to ban it, even just in some zones, it sounds more rational to inform and suggest people how to play it smartly as well as providing enough need-to-know information apart from cautions. For example, advise players to read the game's terms and conditions clearly before allowing the app to access some private information.

At the end of the day, on an individual level, Pokemon Go players should be careful and responsible for their own actions. The state and the public, on the other hand, should take it as a good opportunity to understand the nature of augmented reality so that they can follow the technology wisely.

But for now, let the Pokemon Go players enjoy their childhood fantasy with their presence of mind, they gotta catch 'em all.

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Pattramon Sukprasert

Feature writer

Pattramon Sukprasert is a feature writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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