Pokemon Go roots go back to the CIA

CEO of developer Niantic Labs used to work for U.S. government-sponsored satellite imagery startup.

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It’s always fun to watch a new phenomenon explode out of nowhere, which is what has happened over the past few days with Pokemon Go. The augmented reality game, which encourages players to use their phones to hunt for and find Pokemon characters in the real world around them, is by some measures already more popular than Twitter and Tinder.

But there’s also a dark side to the kid-oriented game. A number of observers have noted that Pokemon Go goes overboard in the permissions it seeks, with iPhone users in particular required to grant the app access to their full Google account.

Developer Niantic Labs says this is a mistake and a fix is in the works… but is it?

Niantic’s chief executive is John Hanke, who was responsible for developing Google Earth prior to his new gig in games. Before that, his career was even more interesting.

Google Earth came out of a company called Keyhole, which was funded by In-Q-Tel, the Central Intelligence Agency’s technology investment arm. Hanke himself worked for the U.S. government in a non-descript “foreign affairs” capacity in Washington and Indonesia.

When I interviewed him years ago, while he was still at Google, he was cagey about that part of his CV. “Pretty much that. That’s really the extent of what I’ve said publicly, so let’s leave it at that,” he said.

Gawker is already quick to note the Pokemon Go conspiracy theories, popping up on Reddit and elsewhere. Perhaps the game is a tool of the illuminati, seeking to gain access to everyone’s phones in a proverbial sheep-in-wolf’s-clothing manner.

It sounds crazy – but also strangely like an old episode of South Park. In the 1999 episode the kids of South Park become obsessed with Chinpokomon, a Japanese cartoon obviously based on Pokemon:

It turned out that the mega-fad was actually a plot by the Japanese government to turn the kids into child soldiers. Once discovered, the plan was foiled.

That also sounds crazy, but at a time when reason seems to be taking a vacation everywhere in the world, it’s starting to feel like anything is possible.

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