Skip to main content

Pokémon Go Restrictions Won't Stop Sex Offenders (Op-Ed)

A group of New York state senators wants the makers of Pokémon Go and other augmented-reality (AR) games to prevent "objectives" — including Pokémon, PokéStops and Pokémon gyms — from appearing within 100 feet of sex offenders’ homes.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Klein and co-sponsored by state Sens. Diane Savino, Tony Avella, David Carlucci and David J. Valesky could be voted on as early as January, when the state Senate reconvenes. And if game makers don't comply, they could face fines of up to $100 per day, per location. With more than 39,000 sex offenders registered in New York state alone, that could lead to fines of nearly $4 million a day.

MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock.com

MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock.com

On top of the bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to tell sex offenders who are under community supervision that they can no longer play Pokémon Go. The governor sent an open letter to Niantic, asking the company to cooperate and prevent those users from opening Pokémon Go accounts.

To even suggest such a bill shows a profound ignorance for how technology works, and makes me question how these people were voted into office. Here's why.

A ridiculous idea

The bill in question is a result of a report by Klein and Savino that showed that 73 of the 100 sex offenders they looked at lived within half a block of a Pokémon, PokéStop or Pokémon gym in New York City. But you know what else is located within half a block of stuff in Pokémon Go? Just about everything.

Anyone who has ever opened up Pokémon Go in a big city knows that Pokémon and PokéStops are everywhere. While they are at it, they should probably shut down any Dairy Queens or Baskin-Robbins operating within 100 feet of a sex offender's home. Trying to remove game objectives in a city with a population density of 27,000 people per square mile is an exercise in futility.

Credit: Family Watchdog

(Image credit: Family Watchdog)

On top of that, it's clear that these politicians never even considered how difficult this law would be to implement. Sure, there's a list of sex offenders' addresses online, but do lawmakers really expect developers of every game that uses a map to comb through names one by one and black out parts of the game?

It's not like there's some sex-offender API that game makers can use to fix their apps. And what if other states follow suit? Game makers will then need to cross-reference hundreds of thousands of names across 50 different databases by hand before they even think about releasing an app. To complicate matters further, the registries change on a regular basis as new offenders join the list and others move to different addresses. That sounds like a pretty chilling effect on a game developer's ability to conduct business.

Credit: Wachiwit / Shutterstock.com

(Image credit: Wachiwit / Shutterstock.com)

This legislation will not prevent pedophiles from targeting children. Even if Niantic were to remove all nearby PokéStops and attempt to ban known sex offenders from its service, pedophiles could still sign up for a new account in Pokémon Go in about 5 seconds, using a different email address. Plus, if this bill came to pass, Niantic would likely be forced to pull out of New York, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue for local businesses and lots of angry fans, all without solving the actual problem.

I'm not saying we should encourage sex offenders to target children. But that doesn't mean this bill is a good idea.

Bans gone overboard

Pokémon Go is a new and exciting game, but it also has spurred a lot of overreactions, such as this bill and situations like the North Carolina town where lawmakers want to ban Pokémon Go over "safety" concerns.

Since Pokémon Go was released, there have been tons of stories describing the benefits the game has had on people with autism or depression, as well as on out-of-shape or lonely individuals. Passing the New York bill would hurt those people way more than it would protect kids trying to catch a Caterpie.

The best way to protect children from predators is not to create clueless knee-jerk legislation but for parents to talk to their children about AR games and safety.