The Pokémon Company recently sent cease-and-desist letters to the creators of popular third-party Pokémon Go tracking tools PokéAlert and Pokémap. Both services have been shut down or will no longer be updated.
Pokémon Go Update: Why are these sites shutting down?
According to the creators of PokéAlert and Pokémap, in its cease-and-desist letters, the Pokémon Company ordered both sites to remove copyrighted images. The Pokémap creators were also warned about data scraping, which means pulling information directly from the game's servers without permission.
"Along with the copyrighted images, our Pokémon Go license was revoked and we were told not to access Niantic's servers," reads the closure announcement on the Pokémap site. "Due to recent cases in the US, if we access Niantic's servers or create a program that others can run that can access Niantic's servers even if those users have a valid Pokémon Go license, we would be accessing Niantic's servers unauthorized. So we must comply with the cease and desist letter and not access the Pokémon Go servers."
If you can't access the Pokémon Go servers you can't scrape the data that tells you where Pokémon are hiding, so Pokémap is dead. The creators also posted that if Niantic develops a public API, Pokémap will return. For now, though, the download link for Pokémap has been removed.
PokéAlert, in its closure notice, does not cite anything about warnings to not access the servers. It does note that PokéAlert technically still works, although it may no longer be updated. In other words, PokéAlert will simply stop being useful and slowly die.
Pokémon Go Update: Third-party tracking tools provide a service Niantic does not
One of the first, popular third-party tools used to track Pokémon in Pokémon Go was called PokéVision. It illustrated the real-world positions of Pokémon, and how much time remained before each Pokémon disappeared. PokéVision scraped data from Pokémon Go in order to gather this information.
PokéVision was so beloved because Pokémon Go's in-game tracking system at launch was very hard to use. It offered a vaguely defined distance between player and Pokémon, but didn't show which direction you needed to walk in to find the creature. That opened the door for third-party tools that could provide way more information.
In August 2016, Niantic made changes to Pokémon Go that limited access for third-party services, effectively forcing PokéVision to shut down. Niantic also shut down Pokémon Go's tracking system, noting player dissatisfaction, but did not provide an immediate replacement. Pokémon Go players have been trying to fill the gap left by the death of PokéVision ever since.
Pokémon Go Update: Could The Silph Road and GamePress be next?
The danger of citing copyright protections against PokéAlert and Pokémap is that other third-party websites in the Pokémon Go community like GamePress and The Silph Road may also be in copyright violation, with nothing but Fair Use claims to fall back on.
The nature of these communities ought to be their best protection, however. The Silph Road conducts a tremendous amount of research in order to learn about Pokémon Go, and while APK data mining is a regular part of the job, scraping data from the Pokémon Go servers is not.
GamePress, as a site that primarily concerns itself with game guides, Pokémon statistics and battle strategies also does not need to scrape data for its daily operations. GamePress conducts its own research, like running gym battle simulations, to gather its information.
The uproar from the Pokémon Go community should The Silph Road, in particular, be taken down by a cease-and-desist letter on the basis of copyright violation would be deafening. As long as The Silph Road and GamePress aren't scrubbing data, it's difficult to imagine The Pokémon Company taking action against them.
More Pokémon Go guides, tips, tricks and updates
Check out Mic's Pokémon Go tips and tricks. Here are guides on how to get stardust, how to determine how long it will take you to reach level 40, the kind of Pokémon you get from 10km eggs, how to create new PokéStops, how to maximize your chances of catching Pokémon and how PokéStops distribute Pokémon eggs. Also check out how to catch Gen 2 baby Pokémon, our analysis of post-balance update Chansey and Rhydon and everything you need to know about finding the long-awaited Pokémon Ditto.
January 27, 2016, 8:14 a.m: This story has been updated.