Meet the small 360 camera module that will fit into phones

You’re probably not aware of this, but a Chinese company dubbed ProTruly has already released the world’s first two smartphones with a built-in 360 camera last December. Don’t worry if you missed the news, because chances are you’d be put off by the devices’ sheer bulkiness, but according to HT Optical, this may no longer be the case with the next release. At MWC Shanghai, I came across this Wuhan-based company which happened to be the 360 camera module supplier of not just ProTruly, but also of Xiaomi for its recent Mi Sphere Camera.

As I was mocking the ridiculousness of the ProTruly Darling phones displayed at the booth, HT Optical’s Vice President Shu Junfeng pulled me to a side and gave me a sneak peek at what’s coming next: a much smaller 360 camera module that can fit into a 7.6mm-thick smartphone, yet it’ll take 16-megapixel stills — a massive jump from, say, the Insta360 Air dongle’s 4.5-megapixel resolution, and also a tad more than the latest Samsung Gear 360’s 15-megapixel offering.

Future “VR smartphones” will look much less ridiculous than this ProTruly Darling.

I wasn’t sure whether it was excitement or skepticism that my face expressed upon hearing this claim, but it prompted Shu to show me some photos — which he wasn’t able to share for this article — of an upcoming smartphone that will feature this new module. Indeed, the device looked more like a conventional smartphone, as opposed to the 8.9mm-thick and 181.4mm-tall ProTruly Darling pictured above (and just for reference, the iPhone 7 Plus is 7.3mm thick and 158.2mm tall).

Also, the lenses on this mysterious phone’s module apparently add just an extra 1mm to the overall thickness, which means the camera will be less of an annoyance during phone calls or when placed in our pockets. This still doesn’t stop either lens from touching whatever surface you place the phone on, but Shu assured me that these lenses will feature a tough scratch resistant coating on the lenses.

Shu then showed me what he claimed to be a 16-megapixel 360 still taken with that new camera module, and the image was surprisingly sharp for such a tiny module. Needless to say, I was able to zoom into that image much further than I would with the photos from my Insta360 Air. While there was no sample video to show me, the exec said this little module can shoot 4K videos which is also impressive. I guess we’ll see more when this phone launches in China on July 30th.

As a firm that used to deal with camera makers like Sony and Olympus, HT Optical has dabbled with other kinds of product categories following the decline of the compact digital camera market. On top of the smartphone VR camera, I was also intrigued by the company’s phone cases with integrated optical zoom camera. The one highlighted above comes with 5x optical zoom, for instance, and it has its own microSD slot. It’s a similar idea to the Hasselblad MotoMod for Moto Z series, except you can plug any iPhone or Android phone — depending on the plug type — into this one. As a bonus, thanks to their built-in battery, the cases can capture images by themselves when needed, so long as you’re comfortable with the lack of a viewfinder.

It’s hard to tell whether this type of phone case will ever take off, but for the smartphone VR camera module, Shu reckoned it’ll take at least a year or two before it becomes a mainstream feature. For now, he’s happy to focus on working with the smaller mobile brands that tend to be more daring.

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The new iPad Pro packs a bigger screen into a familiar body

The tablet market isn’t in great shape, but Apple is still convinced that the iPad represents the future of mobile computing. That’s where the Pro models come in: They’re designed to bring serious horsepower to everyday tasks in hopes that people could use them to replace traditional computers. Now we’ve got a new one, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which replaces the 9.7-inch model we reviewed last year. After a bit of hands-on time, one thing is clear: If you’re looking for a premium tablet, this is one slate you can’t ignore.

The Pro 10.5 (which I’m now calling it, for brevity’s sake) is basically the same size and weight as older 9.7-inch Pro, which is no longer for sale. That Apple was able to squeeze a bigger screen into the same trim body is fantastic; the bezels flanking the left and right sides of the screen are dramatically smaller, which means there’s less stuff to get in between you and the glories of the internet. I was concerned that those smaller bezels around this bigger screen would make the iPad awkward to hold. After all, where are my thumbs supposed to go? Well, it’s not really a problem. The combination of a sleek body and minimal, one-pound weight means the new Pro is just as easily to grasp as older models.

Apple refined the display, too. Beyond the bigger size, it packs familiar True Tone tech that tweaks the screen’s color temperature depending on your surroundings, and refreshes at 120Hz. It was tough to see the difference in action (especially in Apple’s dimly lit demo room), but scrolling and writing on the Pro with an Apple Pencil was remarkably smooth. Don’t worry, we’ll compare it more thoroughly to the other Pros when we get one in for review.

Dana Wollman/Engadget

Now, there’s more to that sense of smoothness than just an improved screen. The Pro 10.5 uses a new A10X Fusion chipset; it’s a more powerful version of the chip we got in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, though it’s not clear how much RAM there is inside. Older iPad Pros had already reached the point where everything felt seamlessly smooth, so you might not notice a difference just swiping around and launching apps. Where all that extra horsepower should shine is when it’s applied to graphically intense games, not to mention the forthcoming iOS 11 update.

These Pros were running an early version of iOS 11, as you could probably tell by the dock at the bottom of the homescreen. To be clear, you are definitely not getting features like that when the 10.5-inch Pro launches next week. It’s still iOS 10 all the way. The wait may be a tough one, though: Apple showed off a load of new features that should make iPads more capable across the board. You’ll be able to access the dock while using apps to launch other ones, and even drag them into the two-paned multi-window mode. You can now drag content back and forth between apps, too, a handy touch for multitaskers. And some other features, like swiping up with four fingers to see all your running apps, feel a lot like ones already baked into macOS.

In other words, the line between iPads and Macs is blurring.

With a blend of improved hardware and a smarter OS, the new iPad Pro seems poised to shine when it starts shipping next week — stick around for a full review shortly.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2017 here!

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Algoriddim squeezes its djay Pro app into the iPhone

For the past 10 years, DJ software maker Algoriddim has been steadily updating its djay app, adding fresh features as software and technology have improved. It started out in Apple’s eco-system on the Mac, adding the iPhone and iPad as it went, even letting Android join the party eventually. Last year its fully-outfitted Pro version added video mixing alongside sampling, effects and four decks. This comprehensive party software hit iPads last year, but starting today the backbreaking work of hauling laptops and tablets around is over, with the newly laid out djay Pro for iPhone. Yep, you new get a fully capable DJ package, with access to Spotify’s pool of tracks, four decks, effects and video mixing in a pocketable format. If you’re intrigued, now’s the time to try it, with a limited time launch price of $ 4.99.

This revamped version of djay Pro isn’t much different from before. Most of the changes are subtle, aimed at improving accessibility on a small screen. There are some new features that take advantage of 3D-Touch and haptic feedback capabilities, though. You can now feel left, right and center spots on the crossfader as little nudges, plus cue marks can be created on the fly by hard presses on the screen. Also impressive, is the ability to feel each kick as you’re scrubbing through waveforms, which helps bring a semblance of actual record queuing back into the process.

In my opinion, DJing with just an iPhone isn’t necessarily the most pleasant experience. I suppose tiny fingers could help — perhaps it’s purpose-built for the emerging generation — but, with the combination of 3D-Touch and haptic feedback, it’s definitely workable. Djay Pro for iPhone makes the best of available space with its subtly adjusted layout, offering easy access to effects, filters and tracks with centrally placed buttons.

Spotify integration is onboard as expected, but the browse function is a new addition, helping you search out new selections by mood, genre or popularity. It’s a great way to have access to a pool of tracks without building up your own collection, plus it’s a lifesaver if you find yourself in need of songs that fit a vibe you absolutely didn’t prepare for in advance.

For those adventurous enough, the video mixing capability is great, and it’s surprising to have access to such rich features from a device that fits in your pocket. You can use AirPlay to stream both music and video to to compatible systems, making it a pleasantly wireless experience. On top of this, if you have an Apple Watch, the watchOS 3 updates offer mix control from your wrist with improved ultra-low latency. While small fingers may help, the watch interface is intuitive and easy to use.

What could be the perfect on-the-go combo, is to pair the mobile app with Algoriddim’s latest hardware collaboration called Mixtour. This ultra-portable DJ controller manufactured by Reloop is definitely bag friendly and lets you run most of the app’s standard features from its larger interface. It takes a bit more forethought to carry one of these around on the off chance you’ll be playing some tunes, but it could help you avoid hunching over your phone when you’re in the mix.

If you’re not using one of Apple’s latest handsets, don’t worry, you can still use djay Pro for iPhone if you have an iPhone 5 or later running iOS 10, but you’ll have to do without the haptic and 3D-Touch perks. You can pick up a copy of the app on iTunes starting today and save 50 percent off the regular price for a limited time.

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Square Cash plugs its virtual card into Apple Pay

The Square Cash service added a “virtual debit card” feature back in September, and tonight during the Code Commerce event, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that it’s integrating with Apple Pay. The virtual Visa debit card lets Square Cash users spend their balance anywhere Visa is accepted (legitimately), and starting today, its iPhone app can enable the card for use on Apple Pay too. If you’re not using an iPhone or Apple Watch, Dorsey said that the company does have plans to support other platforms like Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

Source: Recode, iTunes

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Prisma can turn Facebook Live broadcasts into artistic affairs

Prisma’s latest update gives you the power to air artistic videos on Facebook Live. When you switch from Photos to Videos, you’ll now see a “Live Stream” button that broadcasts whatever it is you’re capturing on cam. You’ll be able to apply any of the eight available art filters onto your broadcasts, which means you can transform any ordinary event into a moving painting on the fly. Unfortunately, this feature has a pretty limited reach: you’ll only get Facebook Live integration if you have an iPhone 7 or a 6s. Prisma says it’s because videos are processed locally on the device — the update also improves overall video quality — and requires the phones’ power.

In its announcement, the company said it knows both Facebook and Google are working on their own Prisma-like offerings. The social network launched artistic filters along with Snapchat-like features for Live a few days ago, while Google revealed that it’s working on its own style-transfer technology at the same time. Prisma CEO Aleksey Moiseenkov says it’s “really cool that Google and Facebook are trying to copy” the company’s app, but he thinks “that’s the evidence that style transfer and all this on-device deep learning stuff matters a lot for every big company in the world.”

Besides announcing the new feature, the company also assures Android fans that it still plans to bring offline processing to the platform, even though it’s taking some time to do so. Prisma promises to launch GIF support, to add social sharing options and to improve photo quality and offline processing time, as well.

Source: Prisma

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Native Union made a USB hub that blends into your home

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a gadget freak and may need to recharge multiple devices on a daily basis. That’s when you’re greeted by a pile of messy cables plugged into a dull-looking and maybe under-powered USB hub. Cable boxes may hide the ugliness, but they’re bulky and don’t actually solve the issue. Not one to admit defeat, Native Union — the mad folks behind the marble iPhone case — came up with the ultimate solution: a stylish, cylindrical USB hub dubbed Eclipse. On the outside, it looks like a piece of home decor thanks to its wooden top, but it’s really the inside that got our attention: as you touch the top gently, the main body slowly rises up to let you uncoil the cables tucked inside, while the base emits a subtle halo for night-time usage. It’s rather mesmerizing to watch.

The Eclipse offers three standard USB ports — one of which can be flipped to USB-C — which total up to 7.8A of current, and each standard port can go up to 2.4A while the USB-C port maxes out at 3A. There’s no Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0 magic here (so the voltage stays at 5V), but the high current output is already plentiful for office hour or night time charging. And don’t worry, all the essential electrical protection mechanisms are in place. The device itself supports 110-240V variable voltage input so you can use it anywhere around the world, and it’s attached to a 4-foot long power cable with an electrical plug of your choice in the Kickstarter campaign.

While Native Union makes its own USB cables, the Eclipse is designed to house any cable that are up to 8-foot long. All you have to do is plug one end into the ports on the inside, then wrap each cable around one of the three slots on the cable management part, pop the part back into the cylinder and you’re good to go. To grab a cable, simply tap the top, let the body rise (powered by a motor), unwind your desired cable, and then tap the top again to let it slowly sink back down. This works even if you choose to hang the Eclipse on the wall — because it’s that good-looking — using the bundled wall mount. There’s a 4mm gap between the outer case and the wooden top, which should let most types of USB cables go through.

The Eclipse is already proving to be quite popular on Kickstarter, as it reached its $ 50,000 goal within the first couple of hours after launch. For those who don’t mind waiting until April 2017 for delivery, early birds can grab an Eclipse for $ 49 while everyone else will have to pay $ 50 — which is still a bargain considering that it’ll retail for $ 80 next year.

Source: Kickstarter

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Prisma’s art filters can turn your videos into moving paintings

A Prisma for videos doesn’t sound so enticing now that Prisma itself has begun supporting the format. The popular app can now apply filters to videos and spit out 15-second snippets that look much more artistic than their source. Even better, it can process files even if you’re offline, which the team made possible by optimizing the algorithm. The bad news? Only the iOS version of the app supports videos for now, but the team is working on bringing the feature (along with offline processing) to Android.

If you’ve ever used the app, you know that it can take some time to pass images through its filters, so you may be wondering how much longer videos take. It all depends on your device: it will take iPhone 7 up to 30 seconds, iPhone 6s a full minute and iPhone 6 two minutes to reveal your 15-second masterpiece.

At the moment, videos only work with nine filters, but the developers plan to add more until all their filters can be applied to both photos and videos. While the app sounds more useful now, this still isn’t Prisma’s final form: the company promises to add support for GIFs “very soon,” so you can give those reaction GIFs the artistic touch they deserve.

Source: iTunes

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Steam is turning into the App Store and that’s OK

Steam changed the video game industry in the same way Netflix changed television. Digital distribution was a natural evolution for gaming in the early 2010s, allowing PC players to skip the midnight-release lines at Gamestop and purchase new titles with the click of a button. While Steam wasn’t the first hub to offer digitally distributed games — Valve debuted it in 2003 — it quickly gained a massive following and by 2011 was undoubtedly the largest platform for finding, buying and playing games on PC, Mac and Linux. Today, Steam hosts more than 10,000 titles and nearly 160 million active users per month, according to Steam Spy and EEDAR.

Steam is Netflix on pixelated, interactive steroids.

Even consoles eventually followed Steam’s lead, becoming more connected and relying less on physical discs with each new generation. In 2013, Microsoft attempted to launch the Xbox One as an always-on console that would eliminate disc games, but the living-room audience wasn’t ready for a digital-only reality. Still, both the Xbox One and PS4 essentially operate as disc-less consoles, offering every game, update and service via online connections.

Steam is a leader in the gaming industry, often setting or predicting trends that will dominate the rest of the market in due time. And, over the past few years, it’s been setting another trend that sounds daunting for new, especially independent, developers: game saturation.

“It used to be that an indie game of reasonable quality, released on Steam, would probably at least break even. That is no longer true,” says Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid and The Witness. “I don’t think Steam is anywhere near the App Store in terms of oversaturation — yet? — but it has definitely gone in that direction.”

Two fans of Valve’s Team Fortress 2 at PAX 2011 (Image credit: Flickr/sharkhats)

A few major changes have rocked Steam since 2012, starting with the launch of Greenlight, a process that allows players to vote in games that they think deserve to be sold on Steam proper. Greenlight replaced Valve’s in-house curation system staffed by employees, instead allowing players themselves to determine whether a game was good enough for the service. Aside from outsourcing the curation process, Valve hoped Greenlight would help developers market their games, offering an extra layer of fan interaction and awareness.

Greenlight was confusing and even detrimental for some developers, even two years after its launch. However, Greenlight cracked open the door for plenty of new studios and Steam began hosting more games than ever before. Valve accepted 283 titles in 2011, and by 2012 that figure had risen to 381, according to Steam Spy. In 2013, 569 new games were added to Steam.

That’s when Early Access came along. In March 2013, Valve debuted a program that allowed developers to sell unfinished, in-production games on Steam. It was an idea similar to Greenlight, allowing developers to cultivate communities before their games actually went live, but this service could generate revenue at the same time. This was an easier sell to developers and it led to some great success stories, even for small titles.

These two shifts in Steam’s operation opened the floodgates. In 2014, Steam Spy says the service added 1,783 games, more than tripling the previous year’s number. In 2015, Steam added 2,989 games, and so far in 2016, the service has accumulated 3,236 more. There are 10,243 games on Steam and more than half of them have been added in the past two years, even though the service has been live for more than a decade.

Steam Early Access at a glance; screenshot taken September 26, 2016

Rami Ismail, co-creator of Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing, says Early Access changed Steam entirely. Most games on Greenlight eventually make it to Steam now and Early Access pushed developers to sell services (continually updated gaming experiences), rather than products (like a boxed game).

“The increased competition on the platform has changed some crucial elements at Valve,” Ismail says. “The curational quality of Steam has disappeared, which has its pros and cons, and developers are eagerly participating in the race to the bottom for PC games too. If anything, this will further popularize subscription-based, free-to-play and DLC models on the platform.”

That “race to the bottom” reveals itself in Steam Spy’s stats. While the number of Steam games has risen dramatically over the past three years, the average price of those games has fallen to $ 10.33 in 2016 from $ 14.21 in 2013.

With an influx of games and falling prices, developers are unable to rely on Steam the same way they used to in the early 2010s. Ismail says that, back then, a decent game could net 10,000 sales or more at launch, but today many great games end up in the “2,000 graveyard,” selling just 2,000 units before disappearing from the charts altogether.

“I think the idea of Steam being this mythical money-maker that instantly makes people rich is mostly a myth that held some truth back at the start of the decade,” Ismail says. “Nowadays, you’re less dependent on launch and more dependent on sales, maintaining visibility over time and building a community. Which, I guess, explains why Early Access is so popular.”

“The idea of Steam being this mythical moneymaker that instantly makes people rich is mostly a myth that held some truth back at the start of the decade.” – Rami Ismail

Steam may be crowded and pushing a new breed of developer-player relationships, but it’s far from a worst-case scenario. Plenty of developers keep their eye on multiple platforms, and the mobile marketplace has long been viewed as a bastion of gross oversaturation. It’s nearly impossible to get noticed on the App Store or Google Play, each of which hosts roughly 2 million programs in total.

“I don’t actually think it’s fair to compare Steam to the App Store,” Firewatch and The Walking Dead lead writer Sean Vanaman says. “The App Store sets price expectations around $ 1 from day one, caters to every human being on Earth with an iPhone and, due to the App Store products being so diverse — you can get Transistor, a date on Tinder and a recipe for eggplant parmesan all in the same 60 seconds — you have tremendous problems with search, discoverability and pricing. There are over 1 million apps in the App Store. Sixty-thousand games hit the App Store per month. That to me is oversaturation.”

As powerful an influence as Steam is on the gaming market, it’s still subject to the whims of a growing industry. Video games are becoming more mainstream by the moment, and the tools for creating games are more accessible than ever. More people are making games, which means there are simply more games to go around — and that’s a good thing, according to Jonathan Blow.

“It’s easier to make a game than it used to be,” Blow says. “So to ‘fix’ that you either have to make it harder to make games or you have to put up barriers for people to get their games to an audience. Both of those sound pretty bad.”

The third option is curation, and Blow sees that playing out fairly successfully on forums and other third-party websites. Steam did launch its own Curators system in 2014 featuring recommendations from established gaming websites and people, but as Blow puts it, “I don’t feel like it has a lot of teeth right now.”

Steam Curators at a glance; screenshot taken September 26, 2016

Ismail largely agrees with Blow’s assessment of the industry.

“Game development is becoming more and more like photography or music bands,” he says. “As it gets easier to make games, that trend will accelerate. Think about it this way: Almost everyone can make a good photo or learn to play an instrument, but only a few do it professionally, and of those, only few can sustain themselves. Games will be like that too.”

The process of developing, marketing and selling a game — especially an independent endeavor — has shifted drastically over the past four years. Players expect transparency and consistent updates, and many times they even want to be involved in the game’s production. This could be a side effect of the Kickstarter generation or an extreme extrapolation of the Minecraft model (the game was successfully sold in beta form for years). Whatever the reason, it’s the new reality.

Steam may not be a magical moneymaking machine for developers, but it is growing with the industry and evolving along the way. Besides, it’s ill-advised for new developers to pin all their hopes on a single platform, Octodad creator Philip Tibitoski says. Every platform, from PC to consoles to mobile, changes regularly due to circumstances that developers simply can’t control.

“I’m not sure developers could ever depend on Steam in the way a studio or individual starting out might think they could,” he says. “The games that thrived on Steam three years ago or so were games with robust promotional cycles that focused around mechanics or ideas that grabbed people within that zeitgeist.”

Tibitoski recommends finding a platform that makes sense for each individual game. That means negotiating with Valve, Sony or Microsoft to get the game showcased on their storefronts, and making sure the studio’s audience actually uses its chosen platform.

“In my experience, there are no guarantees, and all you can really do is build on your own ability to be adaptable, self-aware and cautiously courageous in the choices you make,” Tibitoski says.

Whatever the modern developer’s preference, Ismail and Blow agree it’s best to not launch a game on mobile first. Blow suggests a more curated platform like PlayStation 4, or even a dual-platform launch that hits Steam and PS4 at the same time. Ismail says to “launch as often and in as many stores as you can.”

“If you’re doing a game across Steam and mobile or console, do Steam first,” he says. “Even though you’re developing them simultaneously and the order barely matters in most cases, people hate mobile and console games coming to Steam, but console and mobile users love PC games coming to their platforms.”

Success on Steam is all about these tricks — and its marketplace has certainly gotten trickier over the past four years.

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‘Pokémon Go’ on iOS is digging deep into linked Google accounts (update)

If you spent your weekend wandering around capturing cartoon monsters on your phone, you’re likely one of millions addicted to Pokémon Go, the latest mobile game sensation. But if you played the game on an iPhone and signed in with your Google account, you also just handed the keys to your entire Google account to Niantic, the developer behind the game. As pointed out by Adam Reeve, a principal architect at Red Owl analytics, nothing in the sign up process indicates that you’re giving the app full access to your account.

Indeed, according to the Google help page, this means that the application will now be able to “see and modify nearly all information in your Google account.” That means that Niantic — and, more importantly, anyone who has access to Niantic’s servers — will be able to read and access all your email, your Google drive docs, your search history, your private Google Photos and a lot more. To be clear, this wouldn’t be a problem if you signed up for the game using Pokemon’s own “Trainer Club” account, but Pokemon’s servers appear to be down. Also, while this full access issue appears to happen predominantly on iOS, a few Android users have reported the same as well.

We’ve reached out to Niantic and to Google to get more information about what happened here. Right now, we hear they’re still trying to clarify what’s going on and we’ll update you on their response if any. For now, however, we recommend revoking Pokemon Go’s full account access by heading to this link and clicking “Remove.” The game should still function if you have it open, but you’ll probably have to reauthorize (and re-revoke) on future sign-ins.

Update: Good news! Niantic Labs and The Pokémon Company issued a response to Engadget, confirming that it’s not actually reading your emails. Still, it has far more access than is necessary for the game and the company says that while it’s working on a fix for the client to only request the correct permission, Google will reduce Pokémon Go’s access on its end ‘soon.’

Just in case there’s any remaining confusion about what the app does or doesn’t have access to, enter Slack security dev Ari Rubinstein. He’s tested out the OAuth token used by Pokémon to see what has access to in a Google account, and posted the results on GitHub. Ultimately, what he’s found is that the problem is likely more related to use of an out-of-date API that caused Google to display a message showing it had “full access” to your account, even though the app ultimately does not have permission to access things like your email or calendar even if it wanted to.

We recently discovered that the Pokémon Go account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. However, Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected. Once we became aware of this error, we began working on a client-side fix to request permission for only basic Google profile information, in line with the data that we actually access. Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go’s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.

For more information, please review Niantic’s Privacy Policy here: https://www.nianticlabs.com/privacy/pokemongo/en


Source: Adam Reeve

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