Don't Regulate Pokemon GO
Apparently fulfilling the dreams of millions of American consumers, a smartphone application based on the popular video game franchise Pokémon was released last month, prompting millions of wannabe pocket-monster masters to get off the couch, get some fresh air, and get exercising. Lawmakers across the country are already considering ways to regulate the fun.
The application, available for both Apple and Android operating systems, combines phones’ GPS data, camera sensors, and downloaded maps of the real world to provide to players a gaming experience that corresponds to the movements they make in the real world. As players walk around, they use the app to “capture” fictional animal-like creatures superimposed on the phone camera’s view of the real world, creating a form of “augmented reality.”
The game’s object is simple and the learning curve is gentle: collect all the Pokémon around you, join a team of cohorts, then defend predetermined real-world landmarks against other teams of players. Since the game’s release, the app has gained more users than applications such as Tinder, a popular social-networking app, and consumers have spent more than $14 million on optional in-game tokens and upgrades.
Pokémon Go is an example of free-market principles in action: A business produced a service consumers wanted, prompting consumers to flock to it and trade real-world money for the experience and enjoyment they receive in exchange.
This has not kept New York state Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) from proposing regulating consumers’ Pokémon quests. He recently said that he has been preparing legislation regulating Pokémon Go to be proposed in the State Assembly if game designers fail to meet his otherwise unspecified requirements of being “vigilant before they become liable.”
Ortiz is a man seemingly dedicated to protecting consumers, young and old, from having fun. He has a history of proposing “sin taxes” on alcohol, soda pop, and strip clubs. But Ortiz isn’t the only lawmaker threatening to steal consumers’ fun.
On July 12, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) sent a letter to the chief executive officer of Niantec, the company responsible for developing Pokémon Go, accusing the company of “unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users’ personal information without their appropriate consent.”
Franken says he’s worried because Pokémon Go users voluntarily give bits of data about themselves in exchange for hours of free fun. This is surprising since Franken has long supported government data collection efforts and mandates requiring consumers to do business with the government or government-approved businesses. For instance, Franken has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act and other government-health-care programs. In those cases, Franken has not appeared concerned about the government “unnecessarily collecting, using, and sharing a wide range of users’ personal information without their appropriate consent.”
Similarly, in 2013, Franken defended the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American citizens’ cellphone locations, e-mails, and phone conversations. By way of explanation, the senator told a local television station that mass government surveillance “is used to protect us” and that the controversial spy program “has been successful in preventing terrorism.”
With all of the real problems we face today — including unfunded pension liabilities, skyrocketing entitlement spending, and crushing regulatory costs on entrepreneurs and consumers, to name just a few — there’s no reason why lawmakers should be trying to kill the fun consumers are having thanks to Pokémon Go. Instead, lawmakers should focus on figuring out how to create a business climate that encourages more entrepreneurs to take chances and launch companies like Niantec and produce more services that provide consumers with so much enjoyment at little or no cost.