Pokemon Go sparks safety fears

Pokemon Go sparks safety fears

By design, Pokemon Go demands players like this Hong Kong youth walk while watching their smartphones, raising concern about mishaps. (AFP photo)
By design, Pokemon Go demands players like this Hong Kong youth walk while watching their smartphones, raising concern about mishaps. (AFP photo)

The national telecom regulator is considering measures to cope with possible incidents stemming from the new mobile gaming phenomenon, Pokemon Go, due to hit Thailand in September.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC)'s concerns arise from problems seen in countries where the app is already available.

"We will call a meeting with major mobile operators to seek ways to prevent those incidents from happening here, especially public safety risks," said secretary-general Takorn Tantasith.

Pokemon Go has been an unexpected smash hit as it has made its way through the US, Europe and Australia. But it has also led to incidents both major and minor, including accidents and crimes.

Pokemon Go is the not the first gaming application that has successfully blended the online and offline spheres as players wander the real world, keeping their eyes on their smartphone screens in search of digital monsters. Ingress Anomalies, for example, had been attracting players with a similar walkabout game since 2012.

But the Nintendo game has been a sudden, smash hit.

Players also interact with others in the same locales, traversing offices, parks, banks, religious buildings or even taxis in their bid to capture the digital monsters on their devices.

Mr Takorn said this augmented-reality game is also bringing people to places they would normally avoid, putting their safety at risk.

Mobile operators may be asked to cooperate by preparing a warning or instructions for their clients who download the game to make them aware of the dangers and how to prevent them, said Mr Takorn.

"People should be aware of the risks and not go solo on their hunt for monsters in unfamiliar places at odd hours. Underage players should have their parents closely monitoring them, bearing in mind that their own safety is more important than catching monsters," he said.

Mr Takorn added that there is no intention to intervene in the app business, rather the regulator is doing its job to address an issue regarding consumers.

"Thailand had as many as 40 million people connecting to the internet on their smartphones in 2015 and they spent almost six hours a day on their phones, so the mobile game will definitely be a big hit here too. So we have to think about prevention," he said.

Pokemon Go was created by Niantic, a San Francisco spin-off of Google parent Alphabet and the maker of a similar augmented-reality game called Ingress. The Pokemon concept was popularised by Nintendo, part of the Japanese consortium that owns the characters.

In Thailand, True, through its subsidiary True Content and Media, won the rights in 2014 to exclusively sell Pokemon items and develop a localised version of Pokemon video games.

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