ALBANY, NEW YORK/NEW YORK - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday directed state authorities to prevent nearly 3,000 registered sex offenders now on parole from playing “Pokemon Go” in an effort to safeguard children who play.
The state’s Department of Corrections and Community Services is making that a condition of supervised release from state prison for all sex offenders. State officials recommended that county probation offices adopt the same policy.
“As technology evolves, we must ensure these advances don’t become new avenues for dangerous predators to prey on new victims,” Cuomo said. The governor’s office said it wasn’t aware of any actual incident yet, but the potential is there.
The Democratic governor has also sent a letter to software developer Niantic requesting help prohibiting sexual predators from playing the online game, where players roam through the physical world searching for virtual Pokemon creatures.
Niantic did not reply to requests for comment.
New York law requires registered sex offenders to keep current home addresses, email accounts, screen names and other internet identifiers with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains the publicly accessible online registry.
The division also shares that information with about 40 social media businesses and has contacted Niantic in an effort to work with that company, spokeswoman Janine Kava said.
The division has sent about 52,000 records related to 18,544 sex offenders since 2008 that have been used to remove names from social media sites, according to the governor’s office.
State Sen. Jeff Klein, a Democrat who raised similar concerns last week, said New York already prohibits high-level offenders on parole from using social media. He proposed requiring game manufacturers take steps to ensure the virtual Pokemon creatures don’t pop up within 100 feet of offenders’ homes, saying visits to 100 registered offenders’ residences showed Pokémon materialized in front of them 57 percent of the time.
Klein said the only actual case he knew of was in Greenfield, Indiana, where a probation officer saw a 42-year-old sex offender playing the game with a 16-year-old boy on the county courthouse lawn in July. The man, on probation and prohibited from contact with minors, was arrested.
New York is requesting Niantic to cross-reference a list of sex offenders provided by the state with its list of players.
Paroled sex offenders will be instructed by their supervisors that playing “Pokemon Go” or similar games is in violation of their parole, state officials said.
Niantic and Nintendo Inc., which owns a large stake in the game’s publisher, The Pokemon Company, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cuomo said, “These actions will provide safeguards for the players of these augmented reality games and help take one more tool away from those seeking to do harm to our children.”
“Pokemon Go” incorporates colorful animated creatures from Nintendo’s Pokemon universe into the real world using augmented reality and Google mapping technology. The game attracted 21 million active U.S. users in less than two weeks of its launch in July, leading to warnings about certain hazards.
A feature of the game that allows users to lure characters or players for a fee to specific locations, appears to have the potential to be abused by predators, Cuomo said.
The game has been blamed for illegal border crossings from Canada to the United States, prompted a U.S. senator to question the game’s maker over privacy concerns, and led to a series of robberies and injures.
The game may also pose special risks to children as it encourages players to explore physical locations to win points.
On its website, Niantic says users must comply with age restrictions and applicable laws to play its games.
“You may use the services only if you are 13 years of age or older and capable of forming a binding contract and are not barred from using the services under applicable law,” it said.