Catching Pikachu in some countries can be dangerous
Is there ANYONE who hasn’t heard of Pokémon Go? It is everywhere in the US and around the world. And that creates some interesting problems for travelers to other countries.
We have all heard about the stories of Pokémon Go players in the US being in car crashes , falling off cliffs, trespassing on the grounds of a nuclear power plant, and even trying to play the game at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.
Two kids in Canada accidently crossed into the US while playing the game. And in Copenhagen, the US Embassy has had a problem with trespassers on the embassy grounds. At a Department of State briefing on efforts to combat ISIS a reporter was discovered playing Pokémon Go during the briefing.
Playing Pokémon Go is more that entertainment. It can create dangerous situations when you play the game in some countries.
Less that legal ways to get the game
As of today, Pokémon Go has been released in 38 countries with more to come. But that has not stopped people from playing it in countries where it has not yet been launched. Including some countries where it is banned.
This happens two ways. Some people are downloading an illegal copy of the game from a third party website. Not only is it not the real game but many include a malicious remote access tool (RAT) that can give an attacker full control of your phone.
Other people are using a virtual private network (VPN) to hide their location and then go to the download site in another country to get the game. They also use the VPN to spoof the Google GPS that is part of the game.
Here’s the problem
Some countries have unusual laws about the game. Pokémon Go is even banned in other countries. Most local players know what the rules are in their country, and how to avoid getting caught.
But a player from the US on a study abroad, spring break or gap year trip may not be aware that playing the game in certain places can get them into big trouble.
Here are some examples of the problems with playing the game outside the US.
In Saudi Arabia clerics have reissued a 2001 fatwa (religious edict) banning Pokémon. They claim the game is a form of gambling, promotes evolution and contains religious symbols (Shinto, Christianity, Freemasonry, and ‘global Zionism’). Three Saudi men were arrested at an airport because they were playing the game and pointing their cameras at a restricted area.
Egypt believes the game is a tool of espionage by foreign governments that infiltrates their communications. Egyptian officials have accused players of sharing photos of secure government sites.
Chinese officials have warned that the game is a means of offensive action by the US and Japan to explore China’s secret military bases. Even though the Google GPS for the game is blocked by the Great Firewall it is still being played by people in China on servers in Japan.
Bosnia has warned players to stay out of the many mine fields left over from the 1992–95 war in the country.
Russia claims Pokémon Go is a CIA plot and Putin is going to ban Pokémon GO. Religious leaders say the game has links to Satanism and have demanded jail time for anyone caught playing the game in a church.
Kuwait’s Interior Ministry warned users last week not to play the game at mosques, shopping centers, malls and oil installations. Security officials have been ordered to stop anyone approaching a prohibited area even if unintentional.
Indonesia called the game a national security threat that could allow enemies to penetrate military sites and gain access to top secret data. Indonesian police briefly detained a Frenchman who trespassed on a military base while playing the game.
To add to the complications, Pokémon Go has even been used for political purposes. A tweet in Israel showed a photo of a dead Pikachu in the rubble of a torn down building in the Gaza Strip.
What to do
So far no one, State Department, OSAC or travel security companies has put out any warnings about playing Pokémon Go in other countries. This is especially important for the countries banning or considering banning the game (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, Malaysia, Kuwait, Turkey, Indonesia).
Until there is country specific information here are some general guidelines you can use to decide if you should play Pokémon Go in a particular country
Check the safety information for the country. If you find any of these general cautions or warnings then you should either not play the game or play it with extreme caution in that country.
- Internet restrictions or monitoring, social media restrictions or monitoring, blocking of websites, or strong government censorship
- Warnings about dangerous locations in the country such as areas with landmines
- Warnings about taking photographs of police, military, or government buildings or officers
- Warnings about high levels of suspicion about the US or US citizens
Look for future cautionary language from the State Department, OSAC and travel security companies about countries where the game is against the law or against religious beliefs. The State Department has a great site called Students Abroad for students studying abroad and young travelers. This would be the perfect place for these warnings.
Study abroad programs should address this issue especially with students traveling to a country where Pokémon Go game is banned. And if they are going to play while abroad they should be careful where they play Piketon Go and always use the buddy system by playing with a friend.
Stay safe and travel far