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AR Games, a new wrinkle in surveillance…

July 11, 2016 3:46 PM | Rob Layne (Administrator)

Since its launch just a few short days ago, Pokémon Go has created quite a stir. Not only is it one of, if not the fastest, downloaded games in app history, which is a success for its creators, it has created a lot of discussion throughout the business world regarding access. As one of the properties where the characters reside, we have seen a 200% increase in activity on our trails after dark since the games release. During the day, people of all ages have been seen standing in the middle of bushes “acting odd” and unfortunately, walking through flower beds and areas cultivated specifically to attract butterflies. While these few behaviors outside might be considered exciting by some, as they are bringing people to the property, our landscape and maintenance teams do not have the same feeling on the subject.

Thankfully we haven’t had anyone fall into a ravine, or walk off into one of the ponds, which has occurred elsewhere in the three countries where the game has first been released. We have experienced people walking into walls and almost falling down interior stairs (head down looking at their phone) including adults, not just kids, as one might expect - grownups running through the galleries trying to beat a friend to the next location.

I’m not against anyone having fun, or the developers of these games from making money, this is America and free enterprise builds our economy.  My concern is that with every good thing there are those who will utilize it for evil. Not just trampled flowerbeds, but true criminal and even terroristic activity.

What do I mean? We have spent decades training security personnel to patrol and observe by exception (i.e. if it looks out of place than it most likely is and should be addressed). I spent a full day just last week with Homeland Security looking at their new training program regarding workplace violence and active shooter. Guess what, one of the key aspects noted was to train staff to be aware of “odd” behavior and report it. The standard “See Something, Say Something” approach. How does this fit into the behaviors associated with AR Games?  Do I have my exterior officers approach everyone standing off in the grass, or in the bushes making hand gestures on their phone?

This activity is also quite distressing from a surveillance awareness standpoint. Are they here acting strange because they are looking for Pokémon, or are they just pretending so they can surveil the exterior aspects of my facility, how many staff are scheduled, etc. One key aspect of training staff to be aware of this type of surveillance is the frequency with which the person is seen. With the advent of the AR Games, seeing the same person on the property becomes a common issue. I’ve been able to determine that we have over 30 of the Pokémon characters located on our property. It will not be uncommon for my exterior team and interior security staff for that matter to see the same faces multiple days while they try and “capture” them all. As we do not charge admission to access our general galleries, it makes it easy for them to return time and time again. Phone in hand walking all around, stopping in front of doors and hallways. This type of behavior would have been deemed very suspicious and addressed prior to the games release. Now it will become common behavior and staff may simply ignore the activity.

To take this a step further, let’s say you’re responsible for critical infrastructure, such as a security director for a power plant. One of these characters is placed just outside your gate. The first few times someone comes up and attempts to “capture” it.  Your officers ask them politely to leave, but they argue with your staff concerning the game, etc. Human nature being what it is, after the 150th person comes up to the gate to “play the game”, the officers have now become so accustomed to this behavior it isn’t considered “odd” any longer. Who from that group of 150 was playing the game and who was checking out your security, access points etc.? It’s impossible to tell.

Let’s move to the mall, people walking all around with phone in hand looking to “capture” Pokémon. Seams innocent enough, after all it’s just a game isn’t it? How about the one person, or team of people “playing the game” who are actually surveying the scene and activities of others as they plan their criminal enterprise.    

If I were planning to rob a bank, I would place a Pokémon character right inside near the counter, so I could check on the daily routine of everyone inside. Yes, that’s possible once you have gained a high enough level within the game, you can place them where you wish, not to mention the hackers who have already demonstrated they can access the game for their own personal reward.

This is just the first of many AR type games that we will see in the coming years. As long as they are profitable for the creators, we will continue to deal with the issues associated with them.

Let’s keep the discussion going, stay open minded, and share ideas regarding training, observational skills, and ways in which we can provide safe environments for staff and guests, while meeting the security needs of the same.

Geoff Goodrich
Director of Protection Services
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Bentonville, Arkansas


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