When game developer Niantic Labs released the highly-anticipated mobile app Pokémon Go this past July, it became an overnight hit. People’s social media feeds were filled with screenshots proudly showing off their latest catch, and it was hard to walk down the street without seeing someone trying to capture invisible monsters with their phone. It didn’t take long for the game to spread like wildfire, racking up over 30 million downloads within its first month. But that success could come at a hefty price for Niantic, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo, as the app has led to numerous filings of Pokémon Go lawsuits over issues of trespassing and invasion of privacy.
In the tech world, new technology that spreads quickly and has the ability to drastically alter society’s lifestyle is called “disruptive.” That label may be especially appropriate in the case of the Pokémon Go lawsuits. The app uses the GPS and camera of a smartphone to create an “augmented reality” experience that spawns Pokémon into real world locations, allowing players to capture and collect the creatures at various spots around them. Niantic also included special landmarks called “Poké Stops” that appear at fixed points in the real world, awarding players who visit with rare items and the chance to battle other players for control of a “Poké Gym.”
Despite the overwhelming popularity of the game, not everyone is thrilled about the ability to catch monsters in their neighborhood. Pokémon Go has allegedly disrupted the lives of many individuals, leading to the filing of multiple class action lawsuits. Since the game fails to distinguish between private and public property, the affected plaintiffs allege that Niantic’s placement of Poké Stops on or directly adjacent to their property has caused significant distress. Numerous stories began appearing online of strangers loitering around people’s homes while staring into their phones. Some players allegedly even knocked on people’s doors, requesting access to their property.
This may sound like the setup to a bad horror movie, but the reality is no less disturbing. One complaint, filed by Pomerantz LLP, alleges that players have trespassed on the plaintiffs’ property, blocked their driveway and even threatened them when asked to leave.
“Defendants recklessly developed and marketed a product without properly considering its impact on private homeowners, depriving them of their right to enjoy their property without nuisance. The Pokémon Company, Nintendo, and Niantic failed to realize that their virtual game has very real-world consequences,” said Jeremy A. Lieberman, attorney for the plaintiffs.
The plaintiff also alleges a claim for unjust enrichment against all three defendants, stating that the private property of the proposed class has contributed to the game’s prosperity and popularity.
The Pokémon Go lawsuits are still in the early stages of litigation, and will likely influence the direction of future augmented reality apps. In the meantime, Pokémon trainers should stay mindful of other people’s property while playing. Catching another level 3 Pidgey isn’t worth trespassing over.
Photo Credit: Eduardo Woo