With Great Apps Comes Great Liability

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(Marketingmagazine.com.my) – By: Josh Sklar

IT’S a familiar worldwide phenomenon merely weeks old: you’re minding your own business walking (or driving) down the street, struggling to look at the text you’re trying to tap out on your phone when – WHAM, you run into some fool trying to catch a virtual creature for their new exercise-friendly Pokémon Go mobile game.


Over 15 million people of all ages are everywhere trying to locate PokéStops, gyms, and opportunities to flick animated Pokéballs to capture augmented reality beasts with endearing names like Snorlax and Jigglypuff. While in most cities they can be found wandering by themselves or hovering around in small groups, in San Francisco there were recently thousands of participants going for a “Pokémon Go Crawl” all at the same time.

Unfortunately, being everywhere includes private businesses, homes, institutions, and places that may not be safe for the Pokémon “trainer” or the people they encounter who did not agree to the terms for playing with the app. If property is damaged, if business is disrupted, if someone trespasses, if a bystander gets hurt, who is liable? The player? The business or homeowner? The smartphone manufacturer? The app maker?


What about when an agency comes up with an app for their client that becomes so engrossing and engaging that a mobile user’s distraction causes harm? The more viral the success, the more possibility there is for incident and injury.

In the case of Pokémon Go and its creator, Niantic Labs, there have already been serious episodes of people crashing their cars into trees and literally even walking off cliffs (yes, more than one) because of how absorbed they were in their quests.

How long before a kid steps into traffic or a driver smashes into a corner store filled with customers? As the occurrences rack up in the US, Niantic Labs could be charged with “concurrent negligence” and “joint tortfeasor” for not putting a stop to it in order to continue profiting. If they had a marketing agency that came up with the idea and oversaw the creation of the app, they could also be indicted.

The practice of augmented reality through mobile apps is still new enough…….

To read the full article get your hands on MARKETING Magazine’s July-August 2016 issue.

Josh Sklar is the President of Heresy and Author of ‘Digital Doesn’t Matter (and other advertising heresies)’. He can be contacted at [email protected] or @chiefheretic.

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