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CIA-backed Pokemon GO a no-go in China due to security threat

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China’s state censor says it will not license Pokemon GO until it has a chance to evaluate the security risks posed by the CIA-backed developers of the game, Niantic Labs.

In China Pokemon GO is considered a “threat to geographical information security and the threat to the personal safety of consumers,” according to a games panel governed by the Chinese state censor body.

Apart from the obvious, physical danger of driving while playing the location-based, Augmented Reality game, the real danger that Pokemon GO presents is against privacy and data security.

The Sociable reported last July that the developers of Pokemon GO were backed by the CIA and that their technology was used for mapping during the Iraq War. This technology was then integrated into what later became Google Maps.

Read More: CIA-backed, NSA-approved Pokemon GO users give away all privacy rights

Niantic Labs, was founded by John Hanke. Prior to founding Niantic Labs, Hanke was the CEO of the mapping company Keyhole, Inc., which was funded by the CIA’s venture capital branch, In-Q-Tel in 2001. Keyhole was later bought by Google in 2004. All of Hanke’s companies worked to build state-of-the-art mapping technologies, and Keyhole had one major client base: US military and intelligence agencies.

It is no wonder that China is hesitant about licensing an app in the country that uses Google Maps to track every step a user makes. In terms of security threats, the location-based Pokemon GO would work better for spying than the most sophisticated satellite imagery technology as it can use peoples’ phones to bring back information from locations that no satellite could ever penetrate.

Google Maps is blocked in China, and in 2009 a massive hacking attempt on Google’s servers reportedly came from China. This was the beginning of a collaboration between Google and the National Security Agency (NSA).

“According to officials who were privy to the details of Google’s arrangements with the NSA, the company agreed to provide information about traffic on its networks in exchange for intelligence from the NSA about what it knew of foreign hackers. It was a quid pro quo, information for information.”

With Pokemon GO being powered by CIA-backed, NSA-approved Google Maps technology, it is unlikely that China will permit the game within its borders any time soon.

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Tim Hinchliffe
Tim Hinchliffe is a veteran journalist whose passions include writing about how technology impacts society and Artificial Intelligence. He prefers writing in-depth, interesting features that people actually want to read. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Ghanaian Chronicle in West Africa, and Colombia Reports in South America. tim@sociable.co