According to the Guardian, Iranian authorities have banned Pokémon Go, citing security concerns.
Mahsa Alimardani of Global Voices explains that this isn’t the first time Iranian authorities have banned or otherwise censored video games. In the past, however, they’ve seemingly done so for more explicitly political reasons. Notably, they’ve restricted access to titles that featured revolution or armed conflict in Iran itself. Such concerns seem to be in keeping with the mission of Iran’s Supreme Council on Cyberspace, an institution established in 2012 and concerned variously with combating propaganda and preventing cyberespionage.
Such issues don’t, however, appear to have been the primary issues here. To the contrary, the Council on Cyberspace’s primary concern appears to be that Niantic—which makes Pokémon Go—has not sought permission to operate in the country. It’s also not wholly clear, however, that Niantic has any interest in doing so.
Past reporting on the issue—including Alimardani’s—suggests that obtaining permission would have entailed more technical concessions than ones involving content or safety. Most notably, Iran would have obliged the company to keep its servers within the country’s borders. Niantic, which has had plenty of trouble with its servers already, has shown no apparent interest in meeting that demand. Likewise, the company—which appears to exert relatively little direct control over the game’s maps—seems to have ignored Iranian authorities’ insistence that it avoid directing players to sensitive sites.
Given all of that, it’s likely unsurprising that the popular mobile game wasn’t technically available in Iran in the first place. Though the photographer Atta Kenare has captured images of young people hunting for monsters in Tehran, they were likely doing so by working around location restrictions through VPNs. As the Guardian notes, Iranian citizens have used similar approaches to access banned social media platforms. But the location-based Pokémon Go doesn’t seem to have been set up with such practices in mind. Indeed, Alimardani writes that players who actually managed to access the game still struggled to actually locate many Pokémon when using the app in the country.