Pokemon Go finally cracking down on bots and cheaters

More than a month out from initial release and with service extended to nearly all major countries, Pokemon Go developer Niantic is finally turning its attention to its other big problem: cheaters.

Previously, the mobile app blocked off access to its API for a host of third-party services including Pokevision, in the process blocking many botting and cheat programs as well. However, a small team of programmers were able to crack the updated API in a matter of days, restoring service to many of those services.

It now appears that Niantic is going after these sites directly, reportedly sending legal notices to botting services like PokeMobBot. Other bot programs, like Haxtonbot and NecroBot, have also voluntarily suspended their programs in anticipation of receiving similar notices.

“Due to legal action being started against other bot creators/devs (we did not receive a letter yet) the Project development [on NecroBot] will be stopped,” announced developer Noor “Necronomicon” Farhani on NecroBot’s GitHub page.

Programs like Farhani’s NecroBot work by spoofing a player’s global positioning (GPS) data, in effect telling the game that they are in a location where they physically aren’t. Obviously, this goes against the spirit of Pokemon Go‘s gameplay, which is premised on going out and exploring the wild, wild world of meatspace (I refuse to call it “the real world,” as if the internet somehow isn’t, but anyway). Additionally, while these are tools players have used to experience the game in countries where Pokemon Go has not yet officially released, others use it to artificially level-grind and unfairly put themselves ahead of normal places. So it’s easy to understand why Niantic would want to crack down on these services.

Meanwhile, the developer is also going after individual players, issuing permanent bans to those it determines have used these cheats or other third-party services.

Your account was permanently terminated for violations of the Pokemon Go Terms of Service,” reads the game’s support website. Similar language appears in ban notice emails players have received, such as the one below. “This includes, but is not limited to: falsifying your location, using emulators, modified or unofficial software and/or accessing Pokemon Go clients or backends in an unauthorized manner including through the use of third party software.”

Email ban notification from Pokemon's customer service, directing players to Niantic's appeals page. Personal information has been redacted. (Via the pokemongodev subreddit.)

Email ban notification from Pokemon’s customer service, directing players to Niantic’s appeals page. Personal information has been redacted. (Via the pokemongodev subreddit.)

Banned players logging into the app may find themselves looking at the (by now familiar) server overload screen, or find they’re just stuck on the loading page forever.

Players who feel they were banned in error are able to submit an appeal through a boilerplate support request form. As a former game moderator, though, I would be extremely surprised if Niantic reversed more than a tiny fraction of these bans: false positives through cheat detection are fairly rare, and in my experience game companies take an extraordinarily dim view of players claiming they “””accidentally””” used cheats.

Niantic also requests that players not post about their bans on social media like Twitter and Facebook “for privacy reasons.” In my experience, this is half for privacy and half because moderators find it extremely annoying and counter-productive. It definitely won’t help your case, at any rate.

(h/t Polygon.)