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'Security concerns' prompt Iranian ban on Pokémon Go

Citing 'security concerns,' Iran is the first country to ban the augmented-reality game. 

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    Mark Shehata plays Pokémon Go while driving in Cairo, Egypt, July 2016. Iran banned the augmented reality game out of "security concerns," becoming the first country to do so.
    Amr Nabil/AP
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You might want to think twice about trying to catch ‘em all in Iran. 

The Internet censorship body, the High Council of Virtual Spaces, has banned Pokémon Go in Iran out of “security concerns,” according to the BBC.

Though Iran is the first country to outlaw the augmented-reality game, others have warned of its security risks, dangers, and even sacrilege. As players across the world stare at their phones to hunt for virtual Poké monsters superimposed on their mobile screens, many have found themselves wandering where they shouldn’t.

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Iran restricts the Internet usage of its citizens. Facebook and Twitter, for instance, are banned. Iranian authorities previously asked Pokémon Go developer, Niantic, Inc., to cooperate with it to limit the game there, according to media reports last month.

Iran didn’t elaborate on how how the game posed security risks. But, one of Iran’s enemies did, when it restricted where its own soldiers could play.

Israel warned its soldiers not to play Pokémon Go on military bases. In a directive to soldiers and officers last week, the army said the game could leak sensitive information like base locations and photographs, since it activates cellphone cameras and location services, reports the Associated Press. The military is also concerned soldiers could be duped into downloading fake applications that impersonate the game that could phish information from a soldier's phones.

Indonesia and Hong Kong have also forbid on-duty police officers from playing the game, also because of security concerns. In Hong Kong’s New Territories North, police insisted officers conducting raids or surveillance not play the game, according to the South China Morning Post.

Other countries have voiced frustration over unwanted visitors the game attracts to restricted locations. In the game, players chase Poké monsters to real-life locations, as well as battle other players at Gyms, and retrieve supplies at Pokéstops. Gyms and Pokéstops can be at museums, restaurants, and other public sites. They have also been found at restricted government and military locations. In Indonesia, a French player was arrested in July after straying onto a military base. And a Palestinian player told the Associated Press he ran into an obstacle while he tried to catch a Pokémon in Gaza. The creature was in the Palestinian Legislative Council, an off-limits government building run by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that governs Gaza.

Elsewhere, players have found themselves in danger. Some have been robbed. Others have lost track of where they were, bumping into objects, or, in one case, falling of a 100-foot cliff.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged Pokémon maker Niantic last week to prevent sexual predators from luring young victims to them. Mr. Cuomo has directed the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to restrict the state's 3,000 sex offenders on parole from using Pokémon Go and similar games. New York has asked Niantic to also cross-reference a list of sex offenders provided by the state with a list of players. The state has also asked any sex offenders on parole not be able to turn their homes into Gyms or Pokéstops.  

The popularity of the game also has authorities decrying it as sacrilegious. Last month, Saudi Arabian media reports said the kingdom’s top clerical body, the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, revived a 2001 fatwa, or decree, against Pokémon. The next day, Saudi Arabian government denied reports it deemed the game un-Islamic.

These restrictions haven’t stopped some players. Iranians have discussed on social media playing the game in recent weeks, according to the BBC

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