US Senator Al Franken concerned about Pokemon privacy

Originally published at:

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Al Franken

Proof that comedians are the best politicians, Indeed.


I dunno, I was sort of expecting a charming, funny letter full of over the top metaphors. I think becoming a Senator has not improved his sense of humor any.

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He is a US Senator, not a joke.


Still, a Mewtwo reference would not have been out of line.

Maybe Mr Franken should have waited a couple of days until the issues he’s concerned about were either soundly disproven as hair-on-fire journalism or as issues addressed in the new app update that’s already been released.


That is a nice idea, but half of America doesn’t seem to care about domestic government spying. So, meh, you can know my great Aunt’s phone number if I can collect them all!


He should have waited to ask questions? Why such an extreme level of caution?


I’m sure as a Senator he has an abundance of time to ask a lot of questions, but maybe a staffer could’ve checked some sources before letting his boss waste time complaining about rumors. But hey, I’m not a Senator.

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So far I think the best analysis has actually come from Anthony Bourdain.

Name: Pikachu
Notes: The cosseted yellow rat of classic Pokémon fame – thus far elusive in my quest to “Catch Them All” – has finally slipped up, its tail absurdly incongruous as it pokes out of some bushes on the side of the road. Evidently mangled from that one day Dwayne Johnson came to fill in for the local chiropractor, the hell-bent mishap that hangs from its posterior is a dead giveaway. Nevertheless, I will be the first to admit that the little guy is rather cute – not to mention still rather spry for someone suffering from advanced jaundice.
Status: Caught


Franken has done a lot of work looking at privacy protections for consumers. I’m sure he’s aware that PokemonGo is no worse than all the other terrible invasive practices. Why shouldn’t he use something in the news to push that agenda?

Or are we supposed to be hopelessly inured to letting people have willy-nilly access to our data?


I would think as a Senator, he wouldn’t want to be in the news for mistakenly reacting to disproven rumors before checking his sources. But, as you say, he’s made a name for himself on consumer protections, and I respect his diligence, on that level.

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What rumours do you think he is reacting to? He cites the terms of service which gives very broad powers to collect and distribute information and asks why the information is being collected and who it is being shared with. The terms of service are not a rumour, they are a document he has access to.


First of all, let’s be clear that you’re vastly overestimating the level of depth the media would ever give to covering, “Franken Asks Questions We Know Answers to!” They can’t hold Trump down to whether he wants to build a wall at twenty feet or fifty.

Second of all, PokemonGo does very clearly do the things he’s asking about. Sure, we can guess the answers to some of the items which are innocuous: It controls sleeping to keep the screen from going dark while you play and it controls vibration to enhance the game through haptic feedback. A lot of what PokemonGo demands that Franken asks about is boilerplate for a lot of apps, so I’m not seeing the “rumor” here.


It was widely reported in the news (and BB) that Pokemon GO gives Nyantic access to the user’s entire email account, all of the photos on their device, and everything in their Google account. Those rumors are referred to in his letter, and were proven untrue and retracted by news sources.

You mean this:


From Niantic’s statement:

We recently discovered that the Pokémon GO account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account.
[emphasis mine]

So Niantic made a mistake, it was highlighted in the media, they said they’d fix it. Franken mentions the media reports, thanks Niantic for their rapid response, and asks them for further details. I’m really not seeing how this is an unreasonable response.


Filing this under ‘Headlines I would never expect to read in about 99.9% of all parallel universes’.


He may be interested in generating a little media exposure for himself if it turns out that he will be selected as a vice-presidential candidate.

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I think this is possibly the case, yes.

Nintendo’s privacy policy (which is probably in line with those of other app providers) is the problem. Or at least symptomatic of ‘the problem’. Our entertainment/news/media and IT industries are characterized by pervasive contempt for user privacy, autonomy and dignity. (Due essentially to contempt for the user as a person). Their sub-culture of contempt has leaked out into mainstream society over the past 2 decades.

We are inured to it. But, I do not believe our tech and media had to develop these intrusive capabilities, certainly not to the extent that is normative today. It happened for socio-cultural reasons. It happened due to a level of contempt for the common man – the user/customer – that would have seemed freakish, alien and counter-productive to our analogs in the middle of the previous century.

Forced binding arbitration is a similar cultural phenomenon. Like data grabs it’s indicative of the society-wide loss of power & prestige of regular people. In the media, in the government, in tech fields… those who make decisions no longer have a decent fear of the people they ostensibly serve. We are merely a target population.