The Pokemon GO app is currently experiencing a server-side error, which has led to the official website for the game (pokemongodev.com) also being unavailable. The hosting company that supports pokemongodev.com was recently hacked and several people using it were exposed to malicious actors who then used those accounts to try and access other web pages in order to carry out DDoS attacks on them; including ones run by Pokémon Go players
Remember when we had volunteer gamemasters and counselors in earlier MMOs like Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron’s Call? And how, at times, it proved to be a risky proposition due to the dubious nature of voluntary work and the possibility for internal corruption? Niantic obviously missed the message.
After assisting Niantic in identifying incidents of system abuse (in this case, bogus points of interest and/or clustering them together), a reddit member on The Silph Road Pokemon GO subbreddit has claimed that he or she has been harassed. The harassment campaign seems to be launched through social media and Niantic’s Wayfarer review system: They’d been misusing Niantic’s volunteer system to distort the company’s map, then a normal volunteer helped draw attention to it, and then the exploiters harassed and drove away the helpful volunteer using Niantic’s tools.
We’ve already discussed Niantic’s issues with both preventing and responding to abuse, so this should come as no surprise. What’s more upsetting is that this is occurring inside Niantic’s Wayfarer volunteer program, which is a type of crowdsourced GM program that practically anybody can join in minutes and have access to the majority of Niantic’s maps. Even while Niantic does some filtering, certain items get through the gaps, sometimes in very visible ways.
Although the user mentions that the exploiters communicate on Facebook, it appears that the majority of the activity takes place on Niantic’s own Wayfarer site; exploiters have even gone so far as to create a fake persona of the target and accuse legitimate Wayfarers of endangering real points of interest in Niantic games. Except this time, the target is someone who actively gives their time to improve and reject faulty POIs for the benefit of everyone.
Wayfarer volunteers are expected to follow a set of rules and guidelines (which may or may not be followed), but since screening is a simple pass/fail online exam, it’s a simple system to attack if someone is willing to put in the time and cooperate with other exploiters. In reality, the abusers were able to establish a point of interest in the game that harassed the victim. Niantic did delete it, but it was also Niantic who developed the mechanism that the abusers used to design the POI, submit it, approve it, and then put it in the game. The impersonation also takes place on the Wayfarer forums, and it has been going on for at least a few days as far as we can tell.
While outsourcing the system to volunteers may have saved Niantic money, savvy exploiters are demonstrating that Niantic has just allowed organized groups to take over the geo-mapping data and punish helpful users, potentially costing the firm money and goodwill.