Pokémon Go – from insurance to pricey in-app purchases, don’t get caught out while you catch ’em all

It’s the new mobile gaming app that’s taking over the world. Based on the popular game first released in the ’90s, Pokémon Go’s already been downloaded an estimated 75 million times since it was launched just three weeks ago and is still the number one free app in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

If you’re a perplexed parent not fully up to speed on the difference between a Psyduck and a Snorlax (it’s a significant one), the idea’s simple: you catch, evolve and battle cute monsters called Pokémon. What makes the game different is that it’s one of the first to use ‘augmented reality’, allowing you to ‘find’ these creatures out in the real world via your phone’s GPS and camera.

But without wanting to ruin anyone’s playtime, there are a few things to watch out for when you – or your kids – are out and about hunting for that much-coveted Mew…

1. It’ll try to make you pay for in-game extras to help catch more Pokémon – restrict them to make sure your kids don’t run up a bill

In-app purchases – where you pay extra once you’ve started using an app to get access to additional features – are something we’ve warned about with other games, and they’re definitely something to watch out for here.

It’s possible to play Pokémon without paying a penny, but since it’s a free download, the game’s creators are relying on you to buy these extras to make their money (and it looks like it’s doing well, as on one day earlier this month it accounted for almost half of all mobile-gaming in-app revenue).

Gamers can buy ‘PokéCoins’, which are sold in packs ranging from 79p for 100 to a whopping £79.99 for 14,500. They’re used to buy items such as Poké Balls and ‘incense’ to help catch more critters.

This means it’s easy for your little’uns to go on a surprise spending spree, unless you restrict purchases. To turn off unauthorised in-app purchases:

  • On iOS, go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions and set a passcode, then under ‘Allow’ turn off ‘In-App Purchases’.
  • On Android, to require authentication for all purchases – open the Google Play Store app, tap the Menu icon > Settings, then press the ‘Require authentication for purchases’ tab.

For more info on what to watch out for with in-app purchases, see our Mobile Warnings guide. And if you’re stung for purchases you weren’t aware of, get in touch with the store the app was purchased through – many have had charges refunded as a gesture of goodwill.

2. Mobile insurance policies and children don’t always play nice together

We asked a selection of insurers and most said using Pokémon Go should be covered by your policy as normal (though the usual terms apply regarding acting ‘carelessly’,  such as leaving your phone unattended see our Cheap Mobile Insurance guide for need-to-knows and top picks).

However, as it means your children might be out playing more, you should make sure your policy definitely covers the phone when in your child’s possession – especially as policies vary on this.

If your policy covers family members’ use of a handset, it may do so only if they’re above or below a certain age. For example, Insurance2Go only covers those 16+, whereas Nationwide’s packaged bank account will cover dependents up to 19 (or 22 if still in full-time education).

If you don’t have mobile insurance, you may be able to claim under your home insurance if you have personal possessions cover. But doing so would mean you’ll lose any no-claims discount, likely have to pay a chunky excess, and face a possible increase in your premiums – so think about whether it’s really worth it.

In the event that your phone makes its way into unscrupulous hands before you’re able to notify your provider, make sure you lock your Sim as well as the handset itself, otherwise you could get a monster-sized bill.

3. It collects users’ data – protect your kids’ personal info if you’re concerned

As with most apps and services, Pokémon Go collects data about you. It uses your (or your child’s) data in different ways – there’s personal information that can be used to identify you (such as your name, email address and date of birth), and non-identifiable ‘aggregate’ or statistical information.

The game’s privacy policy states that it will share personal data with ‘third-party service providers’ “only for the purpose of performing services”, ie, only for the purpose of allowing them to provide their services, and nothing else. On signing up you’re required to provide basic personal info (for children under 13, parents/guardians are required to register through the separate Pokémon Trainer Club on the sign-up page).

Parents of those under 13 do have the right to refuse further collection, use, and/or disclosure of their child’s personal information to any third parties. You can request this (or change or delete this information or an account), by emailing pokemongo-privacy@nianticlabs.com. Doing so may mean your child can’t use some or even all of the features of the game though.

The privacy policy says non-identifiable information may be “shared with third parties for research and analysis, demographic profiling, and other similar purposes”, which is fairly common practice these days.

Also, be aware that the company behind Pokémon Go, Niantic, does collect ‘device location’ data, which is needed for the game. The company’s privacy policy warns that it might share this location data along with your username through the app to other users.

If you’re particularly concerned about your data but don’t want to restrict use of the game, it might be a good idea to set up a dedicated Gmail address for the sole purpose of signing up, and be restrictive about what information you give when setting it up.

4. Make sure they have plenty of data allowance to avoid extra charges – they’ll be using more if they’re out of the house

Pokémon Go isn’t a hugely data-hungry app – whereas watching an HD video can gobble up up to 3GB an hour, consumer tech website CNET found the game used less than 20MB for an hour’s play.

However, the beauty of Pokémon Go is that it’s best played out and about, which means you’re unlikely to be connected to Wi-Fi – and if you play for long, it may start chomping away at your monthly allowance.

Try to keep an eye on your usage and be careful about extra charges, which can be as high as £6.50 per 250MB – see Mobile Data Limits for more.

5. Pokémon Go WILL drain your battery – make sure they’ll be able use their mobile for its original purpose when they need it most

One thing that has been universally accepted is that the app will suck up your battery like almost no other. Here are a few tips to make sure your child doesn’t run out of juice when they need to call you (or worse still, are about to catch a Ditto):

  • Fully charge up before leaving home, and anywhere you can when out and about. The ChargeBox iOS app is a useful way to find (free and paid-for) charging stations – there are free ones at some John Lewis stores, for example. Some Maplin stores also let you charge up.
  • Enable the game’s battery saving mode (Tap the Poké Ball > Settings > Battery Saver). This does clever things like auto-dim the screen when it’s by your side.
  • Turn off augmented reality (you’ll lose some of the charm when throwing that Poké Ball, but it’s not essential for the game). When you’re next targeting a Pokémon, toggle AR in the top right of the screen to ‘off’.
  • If you’re really desperate, consider buying a battery pack. You can get them for about a tenner.

For more general battery-saving tips, see our Mobile Warnings guide.

And finally… make cash while playing

While the warnings above are all important, it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact, there’s a clever way you can actually make money from playing Pokémon Go.

By its very nature the game demands players get out and walk around (particularly if they’ve got their hands on ‘eggs’, which will only hatch after a certain mileage has been clocked). This is clearly good for you, but why not make it work for your pocket too?

The Bounts app gives you points based on the number of steps you take, as measured by your smartphone or fitness tracker, which can be exchanged for voucher at retailers such as Amazon and John Lewis, or restaurants such as Pizza Express. Stick it on in the background while you’re chasing Pokémon and bam – free money (well, vouchers).

Of course, it could take a while and it all depends on how much activity you do – we estimated six to seven months to get a £5 reward if you’re only walking, rather than running etc as well. If you do the maximum qualifying activities each day you could achieve this in two months though. See our blog for a more detailed estimate.

Alternatively, if you really get your trainer’s level up and catch some rare beasts, you might even be able to sell your account on eBay, like these thrifty gamers who are putting them up from £10 all the way up to £200 (not to say they’ll actually get that much for ’em).