China Bans Augmented Reality Games, Citing Security Concerns

2017-01-11
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Local residents play the augmented reality game Pokemon Go on their smartphones in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 6, 2016.
Local residents play the augmented reality game Pokemon Go on their smartphones in Taipei, Taiwan, Aug. 6, 2016.
ImagineChina

China's media regulator has turned down an application to license the augmented reality game Pokémon Go in the country, citing national security concerns.

"Judging from overseas consumption patterns and a number of cases, there are major social risks linked to the operation of this game," the General Administration of Press and Publications, Radio, Film and Television said in a statement on its website.

"These include breaches of security relating to geographical information, traffic safety and threats to consumer safety," the statement said.

China already bans Google Maps, on which Pokémon Go depends, within its borders, so any attempt to play in China without government permission would result in a blank map.

"In view of these national security considerations, as well as a sense of responsibility for the safety of people and property ... the administration will not be approving this type of game for the time being," it said.

The government statement was issued after domestic games developers began work on a similar augmented reality game aimed at the Chinese market, it said.

Beijing-based rights activist Li Wei said the authorities may also be concerned over reports of large crowds gathering suddenly to play the game.

Shortly after its release last July, reports emerged that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people were congregating on city streets in neighboring Taiwan to play the game.

"A lot of kids do their gaming at home, but they come out when the weather's good to play mobile games," Li said.

"From the government's point of view, there is a risk to national security," he said. "But I think their main fear isn't actually to do with geographical information."

"I think for them the key issue is large numbers of people gathering in public places, ostensibly to play such games," Li said. "I think they may be afraid of 'mass incidents' occurring."

China sees thousands of 'mass incidents' every month, although many go unreported, ranging from anti-eviction protests, to mass petitions, to strikes and anti-pollution demonstrations.

But the government stopped publishing official figures relating to such incidents, and recently detained two bloggers who documented them online.

Head to Hong Kong

Nanjing resident Zhang Haoqi, however, said it is still possible to play Pokémon Go across the internal immigration border in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

"You can play this game in Hong Kong, we [people from mainland China] are allowed to play it there, but we've never been allowed to play it here," Zhang said.

He said he didn't believe the government's concerns over "geographical information" were realistic, either.

"This game relies on permissions from existing location-related apps, so I don't really buy the idea that it has to do with geographical information," he said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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