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Chinese raise fears ‘Pokemon Go’ could help deduce location of military bases


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A woman dressed as the Pokemon character Pikachu (right) participates in a “Pokemon Go” search with a man dressed as the Disney character Stitch on Wednesday in San Francisco. | AP

Not everyone loves “Pokemon Go.”

The augmented-reality game, in which players walk around real-life neighborhoods to hunt and catch virtual cartoon characters that appear on their smartphone screens, has been blamed in the United States for several robberies of distracted mobile phone users and car crashes.


And a U.S. senator has asked the developers of the game to clarify its data privacy protections.

Although the game is unavailable in China, some there fear it could become a Trojan horse for offensive action by the United States and Japan.

“Don’t play ‘Pokemon Go’!!!” said user Pitaorenzhe on the microblogging site Weibo. “It’s so the U.S. and Japan can explore China’s secret bases!”

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The theory is that Japan’s Nintendo Co. Ltd., which partly owns the Pokemon franchise, and America’s Google can work out where Chinese military bases are by seeing where users cannot go to capture Pokemon characters.

This is because game relies on Google’s services, such as Google Maps.

Hawks in Russia have issued similar warnings.

“Imagine if the characters appear not in any old park but at a site that’s secret, where a conscript or other service person takes a photo with his camera,” Aleksandr Mikhailov, a retired FSB major-general, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. “It’s willing and unforced recruitment. It’s the ideal way for security services to gather information.”

Meanwhile, cultural conservatives in Russia have lambasted the game’s addictive nature.

“We need to drag people out of the virtual world, as it all smells of satanism,” the website znak.ru quoted Andrei Polyakov, the head of a Cossack union, as saying. “There are so many interesting things to do in the world and it’s wrong to be distracted by nonsense.”

Russia’s information minster had a calmer response, telling the Tass news agency his ministry does not intend to ban the game.

“Some people like to lounge on the sofa all day, some people like running after Pokemons and falling into ditches, he said, in comments quoted by Radio Free Europe. “Happily, we have a free country.”

In China, the calls for a boycott, and the fact that “Pokemon Go” hasn’t even been released in China, have not deterred fans.

“I really looked forward to playing the Pokemon artificial reality game since they first announced it. I really liked Pokemon as a kid,” said Gan Tian, a 22-year-old student at Tsinghua University. She plays an unofficial version with an artificial map based on countries where the game is available.

But for many others in the country, playing is proving a challenge. Not only is the game not on Chinese app stores, but Google services are blocked in China.

Nintendo has given no indication as to when or whether “Pokemon Go” will be released in China.

Niantic, the lab that developed the game, declined to comment on Friday on an eventual launch. Chief executive John Hanke said it would be technically possible to launch in China, but noted that a host of rules and restrictions would pose a big hurdle.


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