Pokemon Go’s volunteers are being harassed by exploiters within the Wayfarer program


Remember how in some older MMOs, like Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron’s Call, we had volunteer gamemasters and counselors? And how sometimes it turned out to be a tricky idea thanks to the dodgy nature of volunteer employment and the potential for internal corruption? Niantic clearly didn’t get that memo.

A reddit user on The Silph Road Pokemon GO subbreddit has explained that he or she has been harassed after helping Niantic locate cases of system abuse (in this case, fake points of interest and/or clumping them together). The exploiters apparently use social media and Niantic’s Wayfarer review system to launch the harassment campaign: They’d been abusing Niantic’s volunteer system to manipulate the company’s map, then a regular volunteer helped bring attention to it, and then the exploiters used Niantic’s tools to harass and drive off the helpful volunteer.

We’ve been covering how problematic Niantic is as a company at both preventing abuse and handling it, so this should come as little surprise. What is especially disappointing, however, is that this situation is happening within the Wayfarer volunteer program, which is a kind of crowdsourced GM program almost anyone can join within minutes to access the bulk of Niantic games’ maps. While Niantic does some screening, some things do fall through the cracks, sometimes in blatantly obvious ways.

Although the user mentions that Facebook has hosted a place for the exploiters to communicate, Niantic’s own Wayfarer site appears to be where a lot of the activity occurs; exploiters have gone so far as to create a fake persona of the target and accuse those legitimate Wayfarers of endangering real points of interest in Niantic games. Except that here, the target is someone who actually volunteers time to fix and reject bad POIs for everyone.

Wayfarer volunteers are supposed to follow a set of rules and guidelines (which themselves can be questionable), but as screening is a simple pass/fail online test, it’s quite an easy system to abuse if someone wants to put in the effort and coordinate with other exploiters. In fact, the abusers were able to even create an in-game point of interest harassing the target. Niantic did remove it, but Niantic also created the system that the abusers used to create the POI, submit it, approve it, and put it in the game in the first place. The Wayfarer forums are also where the impersonation takes place and has been occurring at least from several days that we could find.

While crowdsourcing the system to volunteers may have saved Niantic some money, smart exploiters are showing that Niantic itself has merely enabled coordinated groups to take over the geo-mapping data and harass helpful players, which may ultimately cost the company both money and goodwill.

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