New York to ban sex offenders from playing Pokemon GO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed officials to restrict the state's 3,000 sex offenders on parole from using Pokemon Go.

REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich/File Photo
A Pokemon appears on the screen next to a woman as a man plays the augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go" by Nintendo in Bryant Park in New York City, U.S. July 11, 2016.

New York will bar registered sex offenders on parole from playing Pokemon Go over concerns that the wildly popular virtual reality game could help sexual predators lure young victims, state officials said on Monday.

Gov. Andrew 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 Pokemon Go and similar games, Cuomo's office said in a statement.

To enforce the rule, the state is requesting Pokemon Go developer Niantic, Inc to cross-reference a list of sex offenders provided by the state with its list of players.

New York is also asking the company to remove locations, identified in the game as places where players can win special points, near offenders' homes. Paroled sex offenders will be instructed by their supervisors that playing Pokemon Go or similar games is in violation of their parole, state officials said.

Niantic and Nintendo Inc, which owns a large stake in the game's publisher, The PokemonCompany, could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Protecting New York's children is priority number one and, as technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don't become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims," Cuomo said. "These actions will provide safeguards for the players of these augmented reality games and help take one more tool away from those seeking to do harm to our children."

Pokemon Go incorporates colorful animated creatures from Nintendo's Pokemon universe into the real world using augmented reality and Google mapping technology. The game attracted 21 million active U.S. users in less than two weeks of its launch in July, leading to warnings about certain hazards.

A feature of the game that allows users to lure characters or players for a fee to specific locations, appears to have the potential to be abused by predators, Cuomo said.

The game has been blamed for illegal border crossing from Canada to the United States, prompted a U.S. senator to question the game's maker over privacy concerns, and led to a series of robberies and injures.

The game may also pose special risks to children as it encourages players to explore physical locations to win points.

On its website, Niantic says users must comply with age restrictions and applicable laws to play its games.

"You may use the services only if you are 13 years of age or older and capable of forming a binding contract and are not barred from using the services under applicable law," it said.

Meanwhile, The Christian Science Monitor reports that Pokémon Go's ratings fell to one-and-a-half stars on Apple's App Store as players flooded the app with negative reviews in frustration over the most recent updates to the game, which failed to fix the game's bugs.

Niantic Labs, the game's developer, completely eliminated the broken tool used to track nearby Pokémon and shut down the third party map apps that facilitated tracking the virtual critters roaming city streets. Using your phone’s GPS and clock, the game makes Pokémon pop up on your phone's screen depending on where you walk and when. But without tools to indicate nearby Pokémon, users are left wandering more than many of them bargained for.

Still, the app hit 100 million installs worldwide over the weekend, according to App Store analytics firm App Annie. But the ever-growing online community is not too pleased with the app's developers, and their lack of responsiveness about the server issues and glitches that have dogged the game.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Richard Chang)

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