With people coming across dead bodies, walking over graves, or sometimes pretending to get into accidents over Pokemon GO, it was really only a matter of time before US lawmakers start to scrutinized the AR game for all it’s worth. And yet, when it did formally send a letter to game developers Niantic Labs, it wasn’t about any of those incidents at all. Instead, what it wants to know is whether Pokemon GO will, cunningly or not, cause players to end up with an insurmountable bill over the use of mobile data while playing the game.
In a letter sent to Niantic CEO John Hanke, the US House of Representatives’ committee on energy and commerce had four very specific questions to ask:
1. Are there best practices that Niantic follows to minimize the amount of data consumers use when playing Pokémon Go?
2. Has Niantic worked with wireless carriers to ensure that consumers are not unexpectedly hit with large overage charges?
3. Does Niantic conspicuously warn customers before they start using the app about how much data the app consumes?
4. Does Niantic have any mechanism in place to make sure consumers are made whole in the event that they are hit with an unexpected overage charge resulting from the use of your app?
In truth, it isn’t really out of the ordinary for Congress to investigate matters that relate to users getting overcharged for data use, especially with the increased scrutiny over data plans and carriers’ businesses. Its singling out of Pokemon GO, however, especially over mobile data use, is somewhat amusing.
The letter paints a very gloomy picture of Pokemon GO’s data use, saying how users play the game for 43 minutes a day on average. In comparison, they only spend 30 minutes on Whatsapp and even less on Instagram and Snapchat. And those users use up about 10 to 20 MB of data per hour, according to studies. So all those add up and will eventually bite users in the posterior when the monthly bill arrives, right?
Well that probably depends on how you do the math. At 20 MB per hour, and an hour of play per day, after 30 straight days you will have consumed at least 600 MB. Depending on your monthly data cap, that might still be way below the limit. Of course, addicted players will most likely spend a lot more time and use up more data, but those would most likely be the exception, not the rule. Then again, given the meteoric rise of the game’s popularity, there might be reason for concern.
The questions do imply that Niantic should warn players that the game consumes data and how much it does. Fair enough, but Pokemon GO is hardly the only mobile app to use up mobile data by the megabytes, and is hardly the biggest. One would presume that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, especially with their assortment of multimedia, would actually be even bigger data users. And, at least on the record, none of those were sent letters coming from the US Congress about this matter.