When Pokemon Go was at its height, there were rumors everywhere that the app was spying for the CIA. Invasive permissions when installing the app and cagey answers from the then head of Niantic, John Hanke led people to believe there were nefarious motives behind those requests to access so much data.
Headlines like ‘The CIA, NSA and Pokémon Go’, ‘CIA-backed, NSA-approved Pokemon GO users give away all privacy rights’ or ‘The CIA’s ‘Pokémon Go’ App is Doing What the Patriot Act Can’t’ fueled these fires at the time but a couple of years on, was there any truth to any of those claims?
In the beginning
The source of this story was in the company formation of Niantic who designed Pokemon Go. It was owned by Keyhole Inc. which was in turn financed by In-Q-Tel. Keyhole was started by John Hanke who also started Niantic. In-Q-Tel is the not-so secret venture capital arm of the CIA.
A core facet of the game, to have GPS running at all times and having you have your camera running at different locations at all times of day added fuel to that fire. You have millions of users across the world walking around with their phones open, GPS running, data streaming back to a server, outside mosques, veterans centers and other places and you have to wonder what was behind it all.
Was it just coincidence and the talent of a CEO who could put his company in the forefront of a mobile game phenomenon? Or was it a conspiracy by a notorious secret organization to spy on the world?
Even now, three years later, there is still no evidence either way. It is tempting to put it all down to conspiracy theorists becoming overexcited. But why did a simple game want so many permissions on your phone?
I’m guessing we will never know for sure.