Pokemon Go community is furious after tracking app crackdown

Some players are even asking for refunds -- and getting them.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
César Salza / CNET
Watch this: Pokemon Go trackers shut down

It seemed like Pokemon Go's Friday update was all for the better, but many of the game's more dedicated players don't feel that way. On Reddit, players are actively blasting developer Niantic for removing features and cracking down on third-party apps that helped them find Pokemon in the game.

Enlarge Image

A very small slice of the hate on Reddit right now.

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Originally, Pokemon Go featured a system called "Nearby" that would show how close wild Pokemon were to the player. If a Pokemon had one or two "footprints" next to their icon, it would be closer than a Pokemon with three, which let some users track down Pokemon by playing "warmer/colder" until they ran across the creature.

I say "some users," because the feature -- like much of Pokemon Go -- was initially buggy as heck. It wouldn't work reliably for me or many other players.

In response, software developers in the Pokemon Go community decided to make their own Pokemon-finding apps, like Pokevision, using the very same data used by the game.

What just happened?

Niantic is getting rid of both ways to find Pokemon at the same time. Not only does the latest update completely remove the footprints system, but Niantic appears to be cracking down on third-party Pokemon tracking apps as well.

Pokevision, the best-known tracking site, is currently not functioning and its creators can't yet say whether it will ever return. PokeHound.com is also missing in action, and Forbes noticed that its creators tweeted a link to this image alleging it had been sent a cease-and-desist letter.

Mind you, we're not yet sure whether these apps are actually being threatened with legal action. Niantic, Nintendo, The Pokemon Company and PokeVision didn't reply to requests for comment.

But Reddit's Pokemon Go development community appears to have discovered that Niantic is using technical means to block these apps as well.

Niantic appears to be throttling these apps so they can't request the locations of Pokemon more than once every five seconds, and some Redditors believe the company has completely blocked the IP addresses of Amazon Web Services and other cloud service providers where third-party tracking apps are being hosted -- effectively cutting them off.

We can't confirm the IP bans either quite yet -- or even that Niantic isn't just temporarily removing the footprints feature until it figures out how to keep its servers running smoothly. All we know for sure is players currently have very few ways to track down wild Pokemon.

And we know players are angry. As of August 1, Pokemon Go has a rating of just 1.5 (out of 5) stars on the iTunes App Store in the US and UK, and just 2 stars in Australia and Japan.

Meanwhile, this tweet from one of the founders of Pokevision has more than 4,400 retweets:

There's a dedicated Reddit thread just to gripe about the changes, and another filled with players asking Apple and Google to refund the money spent on in-game purchases, arguing it's not the game they thought they were paying for.

Surprisingly, Apple seems to be honoring those requests, while the Google Play Store is directing players on Android to contact Niantic directly instead. Here's an example of the message Google is sending:

Either way, it's not very good news for Niantic.

Watch this: Why Pokemon Go is so popular

Update, August 1 at 9:38 a.m. PT: Added mention of iTunes App Store ratings and Google Play refunds.