Pokémon Go could be used to locate military bases Chinese fear
Chinese conspiracy theorists have expressed concern at the possibility that the wildly-popular Pokémon Go app could be part of an American-Japanese plot to discover the location of secret Chinese military bases.
The theory alleges that Japan's Nintendo, which part-owns the Pokémon franchise, and America's Google can work out where the military bases are by seeing where users can't go to capture Pokémon characters. The game relies on Google services such as Maps.
It is thought that if Nintendo places rare Pokémon in areas where they see players aren't going, and nobody attempts to capture the creature, it can be deduced that the location has restricted access and could be a military zone.
"Then, when war breaks out, Japan and the US can easily target their guided missiles, and China will have been destroyed by the invasion of a Japanese-American game," said a social media post circulated on Weibo.
"Don't play Pokemon Go!!!" said user Pitaorenzhe on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. "It's so the US and Japan can explore China's secret bases!"
The augmented reality game, in which players walk around real-life neighbourhoods to hunt and catch virtual cartoon characters on their smartphone screens, has already been blamed in the US for several robberies of distracted mobile phone users and car crashes.
A US senator has asked the developers of the game to clarify its data privacy protections.
Although it is not currently available in China, the country holds the world's largest smartphone and online gaming market and interest in the app will be high if its success in other territories is repeated.
But calls for a boycott, and the fact that Pokémon Go hasn't even been released in China, have not deterred fans.
"I really looked forward to playing the Pokemon artificial reality game since they first announced it. I really liked Pokémon as a kid," said Gan Tian, a 22-year-old student at Tsinghua University. She plays an unofficial version with an artificial map based on countries where the game is available.
But for many others in the country, playing is proving a challenge. Not only is the game not on Chinese app stores, but Google services are blocked in China.
Nintendo has given no indication as to when or whether Pokémon Go will be released in China.
Niantic, the lab that developed the game has declined to comment on whether it will launch in the country but Chief executive John Hanke said in an interview that it would be technically possible to launch in China, but noted a host of complex rules and restrictions.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he was unaware of reports that the game could be a security risk and that he didn't have time to play with such things. Other government ministries did not respond to faxed questions about the game.