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The ‘Pokémon Go for brands’ with a children’s rating that parents need to know about

Parent Zone has voiced its concern that a smartphone app dubbed ‘Pokémon Go for brands’ and offering big cash prizes, has been given a PEGI 3 rating indicating that it's suitable for children

Snatch is a free to play, virtual treasure hunt which uses geo location and augmented reality in much the same way as Pokémon Go.

Instead of walking the streets catching Pokémon, players search for prize parcels that are scattered all over the country, worth a combined total over £15m. Users can also pay to ‘snatch’ parcels from other players or pay to defend their stash from would-be predators.

As they don’t know what is in the parcels at the time, when players part with their real money, they are taking a chance on what’s inside – anything from virtual coins and diamonds to use within the game, to cash prizes of up to £250,000.

Prizes are provided by major brands who have partnered with the app, including Apple, Nintendo and Nando’s. Publicity around it has likened it to a kind of Pokémon Go for brands.

The iTunes App Store and the app manufacturers clearly state that it is for 17-year-olds and over, but we became concerned when we discovered that the Google Play Store currently gives Snatch a PEGI 3 rating, indicating that the app is considered suitable for all age groups. Parent Zone has had reports of children as young as 12 playing it.

With colourful cartoon avatars to customise your profile, simply worded instructions, similar gameplay to Pokémon Go and the promise of free pizzas and games consoles, it’s easy to see how Snatch could appeal to children.

One concerned mother of a 12-year-old boy told us, ‘My son has been talking about the game as some of his friends have been raving about it. I thought it sounded fine and when I checked it out on the app store I saw the PEGI 3 rating and assumed it was OK for him to play. It was only when I looked up the game myself I realised it was aimed at over 17s. I really don't think the fact you can use and win real money makes this suitable for a child.

Parents should also be aware that players are encouraged to invite their Facebook friends to use the app and then to steal from them (you get 500 free coins per friend). To quote the blurb for the app on the App Store ‘This is when friendships get tested.’ Because one of the basic premises of the game is to ‘snatch’ prizes from other people, younger, more vulnerable children may feel picked on when multiple other players try to steal their prizes.

There could also be worries that, as with Pokémon Go, the general lack of awareness users have for the world around them when they are playing with the app may lead to accidents, or children putting themselves into vulnerable situations while absorbed in the game.

Phil Lloyd, speaking on behalf of Snatch, told us: ‘Both the App Store and Google Play regulate age limitations for 16 through to 18 year olds via credit card numbers. We use Facebook to log in to the game that cross references with your personal profile information, including date of birth. We also have a minimum of three steps of age verification depending on the prize.’

We tested Snatch twice and on both occasions, we were able to create an account just by entering our date of birth and email address. We didn't have to log in using Facebook. While you did have to state you’re over 17 to sign up, we didn't have to prove it. Many tech-savvy children are used to entering a false date of birth to sign up to social media and online services they aren't legally old enough for.

‘Snatch is an example of an app that appears to have been developed without proper regard for young people's safety,’ says Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone.

‘There are clear risks that it might encourage bullying, and the ratings given by PEGI and the app store are confusing.

‘It is an app parents should look out for and discourage their children from using.’

Asked about the Snatch app, a spokesperson for CEOP, the online child protection command of the National Crime Agency, told us: ‘As with all apps and social media used by young people, it is important that safety precautions are taken.

‘If you are a parent or carer and you know your child is using this app, we encourage you to ask your child about how they like to use the app, and jointly set privacy settings.

How Snatch works

Players search for parcels within the game in a similar way to how players of Pokémon Go search for Pokémon in the real world. Once you have found a parcel, you have to keep it safe from other players trying to snatch it from you. Keep your parcel safe for six hours and it’s yours. You can then open it to reveal and claim your prize.

In-app purchases allow players to defend their parcels using certain ‘tools’ and ‘superweapons’. To pay for the tools you have to use virtual coins or diamonds which you can win or buy in packages ranging from £2.99 for 100 coins to £69.99 for 10,000 coins. These purchases can be made, simply by entering an iTunes or Google Play password.

The game was created by former forensic scientist Joe Martin, who said he developed the app after becoming tired of spending money on mobile games and not getting anything tangible in return.

A news report in February said that the average user is engaging with the app four times a day, spending over an hour playing it.