How Pokémon Go and Mr. Robot Are Making Me Paranoid

By  · Published on July 14th, 2016

And Why This Might Not Be A Bad Thing.

“Can someone please explain this Pokémon Go thing to me?”

It was one o’clock on Saturday morning and my friends and I had just driven across the Queensboro Bridge, ready to snake our way through Central Park towards the West Side of Manhattan. My friend handed me his phone and opened the app.

“It’s easy, just walk around and click on locations to grab stuff and when you see a Pokémon pop up, try to catch it.”

I looked down at the screen and saw my friend’s character walking through a grid that began to shift and move forward as we drove. I clicked on one of the locations that popped up near me and was surprised to find that it pinpointed a real location, complete with a picture likely lifted from Google Street View. Even more surprising to me was that these locations weren’t just famous landmarks or commercial stores, they were also random apartment buildings and private clubs. I was slightly weirded out by how invasive this seemed when suddenly my friend’s 15-year-old sister began squealing in the backseat.

“Oh my god, a Magikarp! I want him, I need him!”

I looked down at the screen and noticed a cartoon koi fish had popped up near me. Here was my chance to catch a Pokémon. I tapped on the character and suddenly my screen switched into camera mode. Weird. I held it up and scanned all around me, trying to locate the Magikarp. Finally, it appeared on the dashboard in front of me. I caught it, got some XP and handed the phone back to my friend.

“You can keep playing if you want.”

But I didn’t want to.

See, I had just binged my way through season one of Mr. Robot in preparation for the season two premiere and suddenly I found myself unable to revel in warm, fuzzy nostalgia. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Pokémon Go is the perfect tracking device. Your movements can be monitored, your data sold off to the highest bidder – consumption for the masses perfectly masking government surveillance.

And all around me people were posting pictures of their Pokémon catches, people on the streets were holding up their phones and scanning for more creatures, articles were coming out about people being seriously hurt, even walking into traffic, because they were so engrossed in the game. What was going on? Was I the only one who could see through the charade? Am I paranoid? Am I really Elliot?

Maybe not. After Pokémon Go’s release a slew of articles hit the web detailing the game’s ability to data mine users. In order to play the game, Android users must allow the app to access their location and utilize the camera; beyond this the app can access storage data, contacts and even network connections. For iPhone users the game accesses photos in addition to location and the camera and, if you’ve signed in using your Google account, the app can access and modify everything in it, including Gmail and Google Drive. Pretty scary. And as the company grows – the game currently has more users than Tinder – that data becomes extremely valuable. Is catching Pokémon really worth having your information sold off to the highest bidder?

Once again, my thoughts drifted back to Elliot, the paranoid hacker turned reluctant revolutionary played to perfection by doe-eyed Rami Malek. Season One of Mr. Robot gives us insight into one of Elliot’s favorite pastimes, hacking people to find out their secrets. In the show’s opening scene, Elliot sits down with a café owner, detailing the man’s basic history before letting a bomb drop: he discovered that the man is using the café as a front to run a child porn website. Elliot powers through the man’s angry denials by letting him know that he didn’t just discover his secret, he now owns everything. It wouldn’t be the first time Elliot utters these words. As police cars converge on the café, Elliot pulls up his hoodie and quietly strolls outside, his job complete. Our takeaway? Information is power.

But that power can be addicting and as the series progresses, we see Elliot prying into the lives of people he cares about, including his childhood best friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and his well-meaning therapist Krista (Gloria Reuben). As we learn alongside Elliot, everyone has secrets and vulnerabilities and these can be easily exploited by someone with the wrong or even misguided intentions.

Which led me back to the Pokémon Go craze, was fuzzy nostalgia worth compromising all of my personal data? Not for me. Maybe Mr. Robot has made me a little more paranoid, maybe I’m covering up my webcam, side-eying anyone hawking CD’s on the street and commenting on my friends Pokémon pictures about security risks, but I’ve decided a little paranoia might just go a long way in keeping my personal life safe – at least until the next big fSociety revolution.

Jamie Righetti is an author and freelance film critic from New York City. She loves horror movies, Keanu Reeves, BioShock and her Siberian Husky, Nugget.