New York Lawmaker Considers ‘Pokémon Go’ Regulations

Published August 15, 2016

A New York state lawmaker is threatening to introduce legislation that would regulate Pokémon Go, a popular smartphone application allowing players to catch and battle fictional creatures.

Launched in July, Pokémon Go encourages individuals to explore their real-world neighborhoods and other localities by using geographical points of interest as depots for restocking in-game items.

In July, New York Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) told reporters from Politico he will introduce legislation to restrict the game if Niantic, the game’s developer, is insufficiently “vigilant before they become liable” for their product’s effects on consumers.

‘It’s a Joke’

Jared Meyer, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says Ortiz’s threat to use government power to protect consumers from a popular game downloaded by more than 100 million consumers in about three weeks is “a joke.”

“This is just a caricature,” Meyer said. “It’s a joke that now politicians and left-leaning columnists are coming out saying we need to regulate or ban this, because it’s so clearly a good thing. The best way to combat that is just to point out how ridiculous that is.” 

Meyer says it’s in lawmakers’ nature to invent problems requiring more laws and regulations.

“I always try to look for who are the winners and who’s pushing for something, and I’ve realized it’s not quite as common as having a special interest, but it’s still pretty common for regulators to just regulate or lawmakers to make laws; it’s just what they do,” Meyer said. “They are not going to gain greater funding or notoriety by just letting people have this fun thing. They are going to go and do what they do best, which is regulate and ruin all our fun.”

Political Risk Aversion

Adam Millsap, a research fellow with the Mercatus Center’s State and Local Policy Project, says lawmakers are overly cautious when dealing with new technology.

“Politicians—at least some of them—tend to be very cautious,” Millsap said. “When things come out, they’re not sure how they’re going to work, and politicians often catch a lot more blame for things when things go bad than when things go well.”

Millsap says Pokémon Go benefits both consumers and business owners.

“People are out exploring their cities for the first time and saying, ‘You know, I never really noticed these things in my own city,’ and it’s driving customers to local businesses,” Millsap said. “You’ve always got to weigh those benefits against the costs, so you can’t just squash the entire thing because we’re afraid of the unknown.”