Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pokémon Go in the Workplace: The Threat of Augmented-Reality Games

Many of you might have heard of the new augmented-reality game, Pokémon Go, but have you considered how such augmented-reality games might impact the workplace?  Pokémon Go is a free, location-based game that allows mobile phone users to “catch” small creatures in their physical environment, using the phone’s camera and GPS.  The enormously popular game was released on July 6, 2016, and has been downloaded by more than 75 million people worldwide. 

According to a recent article published by Reuters Legal, the game has already caused a spike in lateness as well as safety and productivity issues. The article reports that augmented-reality games are likely here to stay and that “companies should move now to update workplace policies and ensure consistent enforcement while securing facilities, warehouses and potentially dangerous worksites against Pokémon hunters.”   Boeing Company and a Massachusetts hospital have already set an example by banning the game and it’s likely that others will follow. 
According to the article, augmented-reality games, like Pokémon Go, are the beginning of a new phenomenon.  These games will likely pose a number of risks in the workplace, such as safety concerns, productivity and customer relation issues, as well as policy enforcement issues.  The article recites an incident where an employee, playing Pokémon Go, leaned out of an open window because he was trying to connect to something called a PokéStop down below.  Employees have requested to sit by windows in an effort to play the game.  Some employers have also reported an increase in tardiness because employees had to stop and catch a creature as they were on their way to work.  Another concern is that the game creates IT security risks for employers, especially when the game is played on company phones.  The game uses the phone’s GPS data and therefore, it makes it difficult for IT departments to capture accurate data. 

These games also pose a threat to large facilities or campuses since the game involves a lot of walking around.  This is perhaps the greatest risk since players have been roaming into secure or remote locations in pursuit of capturing these virtual creatures.  The Reuters Legal article reported that an agribusiness company’s remote facility had become a hunting ground for the virtual creatures and one player almost fell into a grain elevator.  If a player is hurt in such a remote facility, there is now an argument that the company should have had knowledge that such players were likely to be there. 

Employers should consider the impacts of such games on their premises and develop a policy prohibiting such augmented-reality games. As discussed above, such games not only impact employee productivity, but can also potentially leave employers liable to injuries that occur while the game is being played.  
Daniel Wiessner, Q&A: When to put a stop to Pokémon Go, REUTERS LEGAL (July 25, 2016)