Pokémon Go shadow bans: What they are and how to avoid and appeal them

Pokémon Go is cracking down on accounts that try to access their API (application programming interface) illicitly and illegitimately. It's taking place in the form of a "shadowbox" and it's affecting some players. Here's what's going on!

July 19, 2018: Pokémon Go institutes new Three Strike policy for bans

Here it is, laid out in black and white:

Strike 1: Warning

Disciplinary actionsIf this strike is issued, you will see a warning message within the Pokémon GO app informing you that we have detected cheating on your account.In addition to this warning, your gameplay experience may be degraded in the following ways for the duration of the warning:You may not be able to encounter rare Pokémon in the wild. These Pokémon may not appear on the map or on the Nearby Pokémon tracker.You may be excluded from receiving new EX Raid Passes.Duration:This strike will last for approximately 7 days. After this period, your gameplay experience will fully be restored.

Strike 2: Suspension

Disciplinary actionsIf your account is issued a second strike, you will temporarily lose access to your Pokémon GO account. When attempting to log into the game, you'll be presented with a message stating that your account is suspended. You will not be able to bypass this message.Duration:This strike will last for approximately 30 days. After that period, your account access will be restored.

Strike 3: Termination

Disciplinary actionsIf you receive the first and second strikes and continue to cheat, your account will be permanently banned.Duration:Permanent

Appealing your punishment

If you believe your account has been terminated in error, you may appeal the termination. We will respond to your appeal after a complete investigation of your account. Please note that due to the high level of accuracy in our detection systems, very few terminations are ever overturned.

March 31, 2018: Shadow bans are back with a vengeance

With the introduction of Field Research and Mythical Discovery, several of the first people to report catching Mew were obviously spoofers — you could see the spoofing controls right on their screenshots.

Pokémon Go, coincidentally or not, followed that up by tightening the screws on shadow bans. It looks like many more people have been shadow banned and for many more reasons. Some, perhaps, even by accident.

The best way to avoid a shadow ban is not to spoof, not to multi-account (share you login with multiple people), not to use automated IV checkers (or other apps that access the Pokémon Go API illegitimately), or basically play the game in any way other than how Niantic intended.

And, if you've done all that, and you still feel like you've been shadow banned wrongly or accidentally, keep reading for what you can do about it!

What's a Pokémon Go shadow ban?

A shadow ban, different than a soft ban, doesn't prevent you from playing. What it does is prevent you from seeing anything other than common spawns — Pidgey, Rattata, and the like. In other words, no Eevee, no Growlithe, and certainly no Snorlax, Dragonite, or Tyranitar for you.

Here's what Niantic Support had to say on Reddit:

We're committed to maintaining the state of Pokémon GO and our community of Trainers. People who violate the Pokémon GO Terms of Service (including by using third party software and other cheats) may have their gameplay affected and may not be able to see all the Pokémon around them. While we cannot discuss the systems implemented, we can confirm that we are constantly refining new ways to ensure the integrity of the game in order to keep it fun and fair for all Trainers.

How do you know if you've been shadow banned in Pokémon Go?

The shadow ban prevents you from seeing anything other than common Pokémon when playing Pokémon Go. So, for example, if you're standing with a friend and a rare Pokémon spawns for them but not for you, and that happens repeatedly, it's possible you've been shadow banned.

Why did Pokémon Go institute a shadow ban?

To prevent illicit access to, and abuse of, their application programming interface (API). That's the way the Pokémon Go app connects to the Pokémon Go servers to play the game, but it's also the way many of the more popular cheat sites and apps access them as well. That not only causes extra burden on the servers but creates an unfair advantage for people using the cheating sites and apps.

That's primarily translating into two types of activities:

  1. "Bots", which are programs that fake their way around the Pokémon Go universe, scanning Pokémon and Gyms for third-party maps and collecting high stat (IV), high power (CP) Pokémon so the accounts can later be sold on the black market.
  2. Automated IV-checkers, which are apps that ask for your Google account login so they can overlay or otherwise immediately show stats on all the Pokémon you catch.

Not only do these extra API calls add burden to Pokémon Go's servers, they provide features Pokémon Go doesn't want in the game and considers cheating.

Here's the text of the letter Pokémon Go is sending out to people who contact support about the shadow ban. via The Silph Road:

We're committed to maintaining the state of Pokémon GO and our community of Trainers. People who violate the Pokémon GO Terms of Service (including by using third party software and other cheats) may have their gameplay affected and may not be able to see all the Pokémon around them. While we cannot discuss the systems implemented, we can confirm that we are constantly refining new ways to ensure the integrity of the game in order to keep it fun and fair for all Trainers.As long as you're abiding by the Pokémon GO Terms of Service and the Pokémon GO Trainer guidelines, there should not be any reason for concern.

Which automated IV-checking apps are triggering the shadow ban?

Any IV-checking app that asks for your Google account login can potentially trigger the ban. The app is asking for that access so it can use your account to contact the Pokémon Go servers and that's exactly the behavior the shadow ban was instituted to address.

Some apps that are known or suspected to trigger the shadow ban include:

  • IVFly
  • IV Go
  • AllG IV
  • Blossoms Pokemon Go Manager

What do you do if you're using one of those apps?

Stop! And do the following:

  1. Uninstall the app immediately.
  2. Change the password to your Pokémon Go account.
  3. Revoke permissions from the app

How do you change a Pokémon Go account password?

If you use Pokémon Trainer Club (PTC) for for your Pokémon Go account, you'll need to change your club account:

  1. Go to https://club.pokemon.com/us/pokemon-trainer-club/forgot-password
  2. Fill out the form to reset your password.
  3. When you get the email, click on the included link and complete the password change request.

If you use Google for your Pokémon Go account, you'll need to change your Google/Gmail password.

  1. Go to https://myaccount.google.com/intro/signinoptions/password
  2. Sign in to your account using your existing password.
  3. Enter and confirm your new password.

Once you have your new Google password, you'll need to use it to log back into any of your Google services. Just don't give it to any more third-party IV-checker apps.

How do you revoke permissions for the IV-checker app?

Because of the way online authentication works with Google, access tokens can persist even if you change your password. To make sure you lock out third-party access immediately, you also need to revoke it's permission for your account.

  1. Go to https://myaccount.google.com/permissions
  2. Log into your Google account.
  3. Tap/click on the name of the IV-checker app in the list.
  4. Tap on Remove.

Can you be shadow banned for other reasons, like spoofing, multi- or alt-accounting, or anything else?

So far, shadow banning seems to be a completely automated process and based only on API abuse. Other types of abuse might get an account soft or permanently banned, but not shadow banned.

What if you've already been shadow banned? Can it be reversed?

If you've already been shadow banned and can't see anything other than common spawns, there's a couple things you can do.

First, make sure you've removed any app or service that could be abusing the Pokémon Go API through your account. There's some indication that shadow bans, like soft bans, aren't permanent and, if your account resumes normal activity, could become un-banned in a few days or a week.

Second, if you feel like you've been banned in error, you can contact Pokémon Go's developer, Niantic, and submit a request for help:

  1. Go to https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com/hc/en-us/requests/new?ticket_form_id=233187
  2. Enter your trainer name (the exact name on your account) and email address.
  3. Explain your situation.
  4. Hit Submit.

Is there any way to get around the shadow ban or catch rate Pokémon while waiting for the ban to lift or be reversed?

Even though you can't see all Pokémon when you're shadow banned, you can still catch them if you have a Pokémon Go Plus accessory.

The downside, of course, is that Pokémon Go Plus costs ~$50 and only shoots a single Poké Ball, with no option berries.

The odds of catching a Blissey or Snorlax, much less a Dragonite or Tyranitar with a single Poké Ball is incredibly small.

Still, it's better than nothing, which is what the shadow ban imposes.

Any questions about Pokémon Go shadow bans?

If you have any questions about shadow bans in Pokémon Go or if you have experiences with the ban to share, please drop them in the comments below!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.