Massive systemic abuse discovered in St. Cloud, Florida - Over 300 fake/abusive portals documented.
Over the past several days, a situation has come to light in St. Cloud, Florida, where myself and some others have identified a total of over 300 abusive portals, with likely more that we did not find or have not found yet.
The abuse appears to be highly coordinated, and seems to encompass a mix of fake/duplicate portals (often located on PRP), portal location edit abuse (likely from before the changes last summer), egregious S2 cell abuse, as well as what appears to be a continued coordinated effort by local reviewers to move pins away from their actual/submitted locations during the review process. I have included a Google Doc at the end of this post with the Intel links for all 307 identified portals, but I have a few anecdotes and extra pieces of evidence that I would like to show as well.
Yesterday while wrapping up my research I noticed within comms on the Intel map that an Ingress player recently openly admitted in ENL chat to “putting the portals in their favor”, “arranging the area”, and having a Discord server for others to do the same. This might be a weird way of just talking about capturing and fielding, but its highly suspect. Screenshot below: (EDIT: Agent names removed)
Within a Facebook group for Pokemon GO players for this area, an admin cautioned players from doing AR Mapping tasks in a post back in October, for fear that they could “lose everything that they have built up”. Screenshot below:
While this unfounded rumor that Pokestop scans lead to removals has been perpetuated by many people, the post carries more weight because I can likely directly implicate the person who posted this as part of the abuse, due to the following reason:
I help run a Wayfarer group that covers a large portion of Florida, and as a result, I have tried to track down as many active submitters/reviewers that I can find to help them do things the right way. About a year ago after noticing an abundance of sub-par submissions coming from St. Cloud, I tracked down several people who were submitting in that area, finding the exact people who are now involved in the above facebook post. When I found them, they were new to submitting and needed help. We did help them improve significantly, and since then I have proofread and reviewed hundreds of submissions coming from this area. I did not see anything that I felt to be abusive, although apparently I do not live close enough to review their location edits.
Several months ago, a downward shift occurred in the quality of many of their submissions, specifically within the titles of wayspots being submitted. Titles started to become extremely generic, such as “Neighborhood Playground”, “Community Board”, or “Tennis Court”, as opposed to something more specific such as “Amberly Pines Tennis Court”. As it now turns out, a significant portion of the discovered abusive wayspots have this style of generic titles, and I suspect the generic titles were used to help legitimize the portals after they were moved during the review phase. I have reviewed some of these, and the suggested location appeared to be in their correct locations when I reviewed them, leading me to believe they were moved during review.
In addition to the above, the same person has also indicated previously that they have a “voting block” that is within St. Cloud. While it was previously presented to my community as something that encouraged legitimacy, the newly found abuse shows this is likely no longer the case, and that at minimum, some sort of collusion likely exists. Screenshot below:
And now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for, the 300+ fake portals. The Google doc below contains the title and intel link for all the portals that were discovered and suspected of abuse. Some portals also have an additional note alongside them. Some cases of abuse are more clear-cut abuse than others (such as portals for a boat ramp and baseball field in someone’s driveway). Many of the abusive portals use the same pictures and similar/exact titles and there were some photos that were used around 5 or 6 times, possibly even more. It is a mix of portals that were outright faked/duplicated and portals that were presumably moved away from their actual location.
Note: There are a very small number of portals on this list (maybe like 5) that may have previously existed at their current/submitted locations, but no longer appear to. While this would not be abuse if the portal truly did previously exist, I still documented these when they were in close proximity to other clearly abusive portals, as no longer existing is at minimum still grounds for removal.
And before someone asks, no, I have not reported these to the abuse form. If one of you would like to fill out the form 307 times, be my guest.
To my friends from St. Cloud: I am sure this will hurt you, your community, and innocent players who had nothing to do with the abuse, and I am sorry for that. This is not personal and it frankly sucks to have to report this - but I really can’t ignore it. I hope you will understand. I know that you only wanted more opportunities to play a game you love, but this was not the way to go about it.
To Niantic: It is honestly frustrating that this abuse was enabled to go so far. The current implementation of the S2 cell system is overall bad for players and leads to this abuse. You have a better system within Harry Potter that allows for more POI while still accommodating overworld spawns - please use it! While the changes you made to portal location edits over the summer does prevent some abuse, it clearly did not stop it, nor did it do anything to solve the most common cause of abuse - the S2 cell system itself. This will continue to happen for as long as it is easier to fake a few hundred community board portals than it is to get a single legitimate local hotspot approved. While I understand that people will likely always try to get themselves a couch portal of their own, most abuse is the result of systemic problems that are hard to blame on people who only want to play your game more and thus give you more money. Educational problems need to be addressed for both reviewers and submitters, as if it was easier for people to get more legitimate POIs, it would be far less incentivized for people to abuse the system. If you need help with this undertaking, and it seems like you do, I am available for hire (and I do mean that). You have my gmail and location data, you know where to find me ;)
To anyone who read this entire post, thank you. Please enjoy my favorite portal I found during all of this: "Duel Lion Faces Flower Pot on Residential Property"