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Public safety employees – those people running around your city “hacking” with their smartphones may be playing a Google game (Ingress)

This post is addressed to public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters. It is also applicable to other government employees, such as postal workers, docents, and park rangers. Advances in technology are resulting in some new behavior by citizens, and as an interested party I thought that you should be aware of these.

Public safety and other government officials encounter citizens in the course of their jobs. Sometimes the citizens are pleasant; sometimes they’re not. And perhaps in the last month or so you’ve noticed some citizens who are acting in a very strange manner.

For example, let’s say that you’re a firefighter. Late one night, you see two people park their cars, get out, and focus their attention to a spot just to the north of your fire station. The two people are focused on small electronic devices in their hands that appear to be cellular telephones. As the two people interact with their devices, they engage in some seemingly bizarre conversation.

Were you able to hack the fire station portal?

Yeah, but I didn’t get anything. Shall we fire the XMP bursters?

Yeah, let’s wipe those Enlightened out. Resistance rules!

My XMP burster did hardly anything!

The portal has shields on it. This will take a while.

Well, I have plenty of smaller XMP bursters. Hopefully we have enough.

One resonator down!

Great. Let me bring in the big guns.

(a couple of minutes pass)

Got it! All the resonators are wiped out! The fire station is now blue.

OK, I’ll deploy my own resonators here.

Shall we go recharge the post office?

I can’t. I’m out of XM.

Well, let’s drive around a bit and get some XM. I’ll go by the museum and meet you at the police station.

As a fire fighter, you may be understandably alarmed when people say that they are firing at your place of employment. You may be especially alarmed if you see two different people outside the station the next night, doing similar things.

But before you make that emergency call to the Department of Homeland Security, consider this:

There’s a chance that the people outside your fire station may be playing a Google game.

In November, Google announced that its new game, Ingress, was entering “closed beta” mode. The game was announced via a cryptic video and website.

Once Ingress entered the closed beta mode, this meant that people who received the coveted invitations could join this game in which two factions battle for control of the world.

Unlike other games such as Risk, however, the two factions are battling for control of the REAL world – sort of.

You see, the same GPS technology that public safety agencies use to locate traffic accidents, fires, and criminal activity can also be used to create a world-wide “game board.” In essence, the game “portals” are overlaid over the real world. For example, here is the “game board” for downtown Ontario, California:


The circles (which in this case are blue, although they could be green) represent the “portals” that the two teams in Ingress are fighting to control.

So where are these portals located? This is what Google says about portal location:

Portals live in publicly accessible areas, and are most highly concentrated in denser and more urban settings. Portals manifest themselves usually as public art such as statues and monuments, unique architecture, outdoor murals, historic buildings, and unique local businesses.

While players can actually propose new portals to add to the game, many of the initial portals in Ingress happen to be at…places such as fire stations and post offices.

So the people that you see that are staring at your firehouse may not care about your firehouse at all. They are concentrating on something that only exists in the virtual world – but which has a complement in the real world.

However, Google reminds Ingress players that they are playing in the real world, and that they should behave accordingly. Here are excerpts from Google’s Community Guidelines for Ingress:

We want Ingress to be a fun and safe experience for all players, and for everyone out in the real world where the game is played. Following these common-sense guidelines will help to ensure you and other players have a great experience, and that others are not affected by your game play. Remember that certain interactions that seem harmless or fun to you may be perceived completely differently by other players or bystanders.

Treat other players and bystanders with respect and courtesy and conduct yourself in an appropriate manner while playing Ingress….

Trespass: Don’t trespass while playing Ingress (and don’t try to lawyer that guideline, just respect it). Do not access any property or location while playing the game if you’re not sure you have the right to be there.

Now obviously if someone does go on someone else’s property while playing Ingress, that person is guilty of trespassing. (This includes people who go to a public place after closing hours – for example, if someone makes a midnight visit to a park that closes at dusk.) But if someone is legally on public property, and if that person is not harrassing others, then there shouldn’t be any problem.

However, there are some public safety officials who don’t necessarily realize that Ingress players are just playing a game. At least one Ingress player was detained for nearly three hours because the police were suspicious of the player’s actions.

So why am I writing about this now? As I mentioned earlier, the Ingress game is currently in closed beta, and not that many people are playing it. At some point, Google is expected to open game participation to everyone. This means that a whole bunch of people are going to be running around your towns, pointing their smartphones at public places, and talking about “hacking portals” and “firing at resonators.”

I figured I’d give you advance notice now, so that you’ll know what’s going on when you run into it.

Additional notes: I wrote this becuase as far as I can tell, Google DIDN’T write this. I’ve previously written about the person who was detained. Incidentally, I previously thought that the game would exit closed beta on November 30; I was wrong.

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4 thoughts on “Public safety employees – those people running around your city “hacking” with their smartphones may be playing a Google game (Ingress)

  1. Very well done. I’ve been playing Ingress for a week now and am (thankfully) totally burned out on it and am hanging up my hat. That said, I think this game is the beginning of a whole new cultural trend that at first will be very awkward between the “players” and “the rest”.

    When you add into the mix things like the upcoming “Google Glass” product, you start to see how Ingress is really the beginning point of a pervasive augmented future. I’m surprised main stream press like Time Magazine or even National Geographic aren’t all over this one.

    Sometimes, perhaps rarely, I’m pretty sure about predictions and the following one is a sure thing: Ingress is the beginning of a whole new set of societal norms. We ought to really soak up our “pre augmented reality” right now, while we still have it. It’s not going to last much longer.


  2. Pingback: Public safety and virtual reality | ***Dave Does the Blog

  3. Pingback: Augmented reality in the 12th century « tymshft

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