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Niantic Labs has been fighting and competing against hackers, cheaters and spoofers since the launch of Pokemon Go. The latest effort to brand cheaters was thwarted by a loop-hole, but that loop-hole didn't last long because Niantic managed to fix a hole in the anti-cheating measure.
Polygon is reporting that the initial update to Pokemon Go would brand Pokemon that were acquired through illicit means, such as using location spoofers, bots or other hack programs. The brand would strike a red slash across the player's Pokemon that was unlawfully gained. This meant that any time another player saw a Pokemon with a red slash, the owner was a cheater.
This worked for a while, until some players managed to find a workaround by fast-leveling and evolving their red-marked Pokemon. What some of the more expert players found was that by evolving a Pokemon with a red mark on it, the Pokemon would then lose the red mark on the evolution.
This seemed to work, and gave spoofers, hackers and cheaters some aplomb, hoping to further exploit the system and evolve all their red-marked Pokemon.
However, Niantic was savvy to the efforts of the hackers. What's more is that certain red marked Pokemon can only evolve once, limiting their potential growth and power levels. Another stealth update took things a step further by making it so all red marked Pokemon can no longer even evolve.
So, any hacked or exploited Pokemon that didn't evolve before the latest update will be forever stuck in the first form with a red slash on them.
For Pokemon attempting to evolve while marked with the slash, Pokemon Go now gives an error message saying that the Pokemon can't evolve due to an "unknown error."
Some users questioned why Niantic doesn't just ban users who exploit the game or cheat by using spoofers or hacking programs. Well, one issue is that not everyone is cheating to the same degree. Some people are simply using location spoofers so they can see where Pokemon are on the broader map and travel there to get said Pokemon. Others use more nefarious tools, such as auto-traveling bots to acquire Pokemon and items. Some people simply use various third-party apps for tracking purposes, but still otherwise play the game normally.
There's likely a large enough portion of the Pokemon Go gaming community who would end up getting banned if Niantic decided to completely ban those players from playing the game. It's also possible that Niantic would lose a good portion of paying players as well. It's likely more beneficial for Niantic in the long run to keep those players in the community as opposed to excommunicating them and potentially losing out on a revenue source.
The move to "brand" cheaters was well received within the community. This means that players with branded Pokemon will either have to get rid of their Pokemon or play the game the proper way to replace the branded pocket monsters, which is a rather brilliant way of attempting to keep cheaters honest... just until they find something new to exploit.