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Rare Pokemon planted in Fukushima to lure tourists back; catch a Pokemon in the game, get radiation poisoning in real life

Pokemon Go

(NaturalNews) Japanese government officials have partnered with Niantic, the maker of the blockbuster smartphone game Pokemon Go, in an effort to try and draw tourists back into regions affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdowns.

Niantic has agreed to highly appealing Pokemon Go attractions in the Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were all affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It has also agreed to do the same in Kumamoto prefecture, in the country's south, which suffered from several large earthquakes in April.

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power, continues to suffer setbacks in its ongoing efforts to clean up the nuclear disaster. A much-vaunted "ice wall," designed to keep radioactive groundwater from flowing out of the plant, is supposedly 99 percent complete, yet water flow has barely slowed. And scientists admit that the melted-down reactor cores remain inaccessible, and cleanup of the plant itself may be decades away.

TEPCO objects to Pokemons being placed in radiation zones

Pokemon Go is played by "catching" virtual Pokemons at real-world locations; a player's phone vibrates when a Pokemon is nearby. A player can throw a "PokeBall" to attempt to capture a Pokemon. Pokemons can then be trained and fight against other players' Pokemons at special locations called "PokeGyms."

Under Niantic's partnership with the four prefectures, game designers will add extra PokeGyms to the areas, as well as PokeStops where players can find valuable game items. Niantic has also agreed to place a higher than usual frequency of rare Pokemons in the four prefectures.

Fukushima tourism promotion officials say that 90 percent of the prefecture lies outside of the radiation exclusion zone, and that visiting these areas is completely safe. But TEPCO recently had to reprimand Niantic for placing Pokemons at the actual site of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The power company has asked Niantic to refrain from placing any Pokemons within the radiation-affected areas of Fukushima.

Play with caution

Radiation poisoning isn't the only risk unwary players run when playing the global hit game. Unsuspecting users have been known to place themselves in physical danger, in at least one case literally walking off a cliff while searching for Pokemon.

In July, security bloggers warned that the game's Terms of Service allowed Niantic to access users' entire Google accounts, including email, calendars, photos and documents. The company claimed that the agreement was unnecessarily broad and would be modified, because the game only needed access to player's Google profiles, not their entire accounts.

But privacy advocates warned that the case illustrated how users of online software may be signing away more than they know when they click "accept" on this and other apps.

"A number of these games are not only making money on the front end by selling you the game or things within the game, they're also collecting data about your habits and what you're doing on your phone, and selling that to third-party marketers," said Andrew Storms, vice president of security services at security company New Context. "You're pretty much giving the rights to all your information to this company."

Security experts have also warned that Niantic reserves the right to store and use information on your location – which it tracks whenever you are playing the game (and possibly at other times, as well). Its privacy policy makes it clear that it is free to hand this information over to law enforcement or even private parties at its own discretion, if it decides you might be engaged in unethical activities.

Niantic is also permitted to share players' non-identifying information – including movement patterns – with other companies for "research and analysis, demographic profiling, and other similar purposes."

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