Pokemon GO has caused all sorts of controversy, from the odd instance of trespassing all the way to player loss of life. One of the controversies that the game has been embroiled in during its still short life has centered around its collection and use of user data, including full viewing privileges for iOS users' Google accounts when the game first launched. While Niantic's previous game, Ingress, had never fallen under such scrutiny, Pokemon GO became a full-on pop culture phenomenon, so it didn't surprise many people when U.S. Senator Al Franken, a well-known advocate for privacy and freedom in the digital age, wrote Niantic with some pointed questions. Now, the company behind the latest craze is in government cross hairs again, but this time, the questions are about the amount of data being used, rather than what those packets contain.
Authorities wrote in to Niantic, addressing CEO John Hanke by name, with reports from some users about how much of a data hog Pokemon GO can be. Since the game actively encourages players to leave the house, they're not always guaranteed to be around Wi-Fi when playing, and can eat into their data plan playing the game. While T-Mobile has begun offering customers zero-rated data for the game, customers on other carriers are reporting as much as 20 megabytes of usage per hour in some cases, which can mean chewing through a month's data allotment in a week, for some customers on lower-tier plans. Since users in a recent poll spent an average of about 40 minutes per session, it's not hard to see how a few weeks worth of Pokemon hunting can make even higher-tier users think twice before watching YouTube in HD.
The letter asked a few questions about what Niantic might be doing to help ease the data burden on users. The first question was whether Niantic had a best practices of some sort in place to help ease up on users' data plans. The second question asked Niantic if they had teamed up with wireless carriers to ensure users wouldn't get nasty surprises on their bills. The third question asked whether Pokemon trainers got a warning about how much data they were about to use when firing up the app. The fourth question asked if Niantic had something in place to make things right for users who do get hit with big overages from playing the game. Niantic has until August 9 to respond.