State Senators Jeff Klein (D) and Diane Savino (D) raised the alarm at the end of July.
“Pokémon GO provides sex offenders with a virtual road map to our children,” said Sen. Klein. “We know that pedophiles always seek new ways to lure victims, and this new technology that entertains our kids could also bring them close to dangerous individuals instead of Pokémon.”
For those who have been living life without children or young adults, or just refuse to open the door to the 21st century, Pokemon Go leads “gamers” with mobile technology on a hunt for Pokemon using real-life maps and locations.
“Sex offenders who download the game legally could pinpoint hot spots where children congregate, like pokestops or gyms, and meet them in person,” Savino said.
Here’s how you play: Gamers pause at “Pokestops” to collect the items they need to play the game, and then to “Gyms” where they meet up with other players who have also been racing around with their noses buried in smartphones. Once in the Gym, they battle their collections of creatures.
Pokestops are a huge part of the game. They are stationed at historical sites or businesses, or are placed on local works of art. “Lures” can be put on them to attract Pokemon, opening up another avenue of danger for children, Savino and Klein said.
Just the word “lure” is enough to make a parent reading this story cringe. And think about this: a sexual predator could easily earn a “lure” module by playing to them or would only have to buy modules with real world money.
Then the pedophile would have a “lure” to bring a victim to the front door of his home.
The “Gyms” in the Pokemon game could be even scarier. They are places where players must actually get together, in real-life, real-time encounters. Klein and Savino said that leaves children vulnerable to predators, many of whom live close to the Gyms.
Klein and Savino conducted an investigation that found Pokemon materialized in front of Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders’ homes 57 percent of the time.
Pokestops or Gyms were located within half-a-block of convicted pedophiles’ residences 59 percent of the time.
And, a Pokemon-related game item appeared near a high-level sex offender’s home 73 percent of the time.
In each New York City borough, 57 Pokemon were caught directly in front of high-level pedophiles’ homes.
Of the 100 high-level sexual offenders examined in this study, predators lived within a half-block of a Gym and/or a Pokestop 59 percent of the time.
As soon as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) read the study produced by Klein and Savino, he issued an order that will bar registered sex offenders on parole from signing up to play Pokemon Go and other internet-enabled games as a condition of their release.
The directive will apply to nearly 3,000 Level 1, 2 and 3 sex offenders currently on parole in the state of New York.
Cuomo said the Department of Criminal Justice Services would also guide county probation officers, who will be responsible for implementing the policy.
Cuomo also fired off a letter to software developer Niantic Inc., the creator of Pokemon Go, asking for the corporation’s help in stopping pedophiles from playing the game or games like it.
“As technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don’t become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims,” Cuomo said.
Gov. Cuomo’s order and letter to the corporate Pokemon powers is good, but not good enough for Sens. Klein and Savino. They want to take preemptive legislative action.
“While children believe they are out to catch a Pokémon, what might actually be lurking could be a predator instead of a Pikachu,” Klein said. “It makes no sense at all to give dangerous sexual predators a virtual road map to where our children congregate.”
Klein and Savino have proposed legislation that would make sure companies like Niantic scrub sexual predators’ addresses from the Pokemon game and any other mobile game that leads people on scavenger hunts through New York City.
Klein promised to introduce legislation that would prohibit certain Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from playing augmented reality games like Pokemon, just as they are prevented from using social media.
However, that is only one part of the legislative package.
Another bill would require game developers to regularly scour the Department of Criminal Justice website to find sex offender addresses and remove all in-game objectives within 100 feet of their homes.
“It’s dangerous to let our children linger in front of a sex offender’s home to play a game,” Savino said, “and it’s absurd that a high-level predator should be allowed to have this map at his or her fingertips in the first place.”