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My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data (theatlantic.com) 55

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic: Already in 2010, it felt like a malicious attention market where people treated friends as latent resources to be optimized. Compulsion rather than choice devoured people's time. Apps like FarmVille sold relief for the artificial inconveniences they themselves had imposed. In response, I made a satirical social game called Cow Clicker. Players clicked a cute cow, which mooed and scored a "click." Six hours later, they could do so again. They could also invite friends' cows to their pasture, buy virtual cows with real money, compete for status, click to send a real cow to the developing world from Oxfam, outsource clicks to their toddlers with a mobile app, and much more. It became strangely popular, until eventually, I shut the whole thing down in a bovine rapture -- the "cowpocalypse." It's kind of a complicated story.

But one worth revisiting today, in the context of the scandal over Facebook's sanctioning of user-data exfiltration via its application platform. It's not just that abusing the Facebook platform for deliberately nefarious ends was easy to do (it was). But worse, in those days, it was hard to avoid extracting private data, for years even, without even trying. I did it with a silly cow game. Cow Clicker is not an impressive work of software. After all, it was a game whose sole activity was clicking on cows. I wrote the principal code in three days, much of it hunched on a friend's couch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I had no idea anyone would play it, although over 180,000 people did, eventually. And yet, if you played Cow Clicker, even just once, I got enough of your personal data that, for years, I could have assembled a reasonably sophisticated profile of your interests and behavior. I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running, allowing players to keep clicking where a cow once stood, before my caprice raptured them into the digital void.

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My Cow Game Extracted Your Facebook Data

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  • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @02:15PM (#56314487)

    Cow Clicker? That sounds like a more accurate name for Tinder.

  • cDc (Score:4, Funny)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @02:17PM (#56314497)
    Remember the hacker group "Cult of the Dead Cow?" Never trust the Bovine Threat.
    • My first use of Back Orifice was when a friend sent me an ICQ message, "Hey I want to hack my sister's computer, can you help me with Back Orifice."

      Knowing full well the idiot probably installed the server on his own computer instead of the client... I put BO on a throw-away computer, pointed it at his computer... and hit the shutdown button. Boom.

      Got to love the old days when instant messaging clients showed the ip address.

      • Oh my. Memories of CDC and Back Orifice. I even had a chance to talk with a couple of the guys from CDC. Good Times!

      • The OOB bug in Windows 95-98 was the best. Blue-screen anyone on IRC. Fun times then, prison sentence now.

  • What Scandal? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Obama's social media app collected all the information about people's friends when someone installed it and they bragged about using this data to successfully target people for votes. Everything you put on Facebook is being sold to some advertiser or special interest somewhere. It's part of the deal of using a "free" service. People who are angry that Trump may have used the same technology as everyone else since the early years of Facebook are ignorant or hypocritical.

    • Re:What Scandal? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MDMurphy ( 208495 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @03:09PM (#56314833)

      While most people like to blame FB for "selling" your data, much of it is given away by your friends. As this Cow Clicker guy points out, when someone signed up for the game they agreed to give certain information. FB didn't call up and sell it to him, the people playing the game gave it to him. Other apps ask for, and get, your list of friends, email address and other info.

      I have more a problem with LinkedIn. They'd casually ask you for your email account and password in order to extract all your contact names and email addresses ( and spam them with generic "please join my network" email ) While LinkedIn has the info and does who knows what with it, they just politely asked your friends for it and they gladly gave it to them. Lots of phone apps will also ask for access to your contact list.

      So who's really the worst at keeping your info private? Your idiot friends.

      • The simple response to LinkedIn when the question pops up is NO. I never allow any app or site just blithely take my contacts list. Of course, I grew up in the day when door-to-door vacuum cleaner and encyclopedia salesmen would come to sell you their stuff and then ask you to rat out a dozen of your friends before they leave. Now the salesmen simply suck it down from FB. Thus I never ever had an FB account.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I don't know how this is suddenly making the news when it has been well known for years. It is nice to see people starting to car about privacy again, but anything Facebook related should be assumed to be collecting and profiting off your data until proven otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      You do know why. Because Trump is evil and therefore anything he does is bad. Even if other people did it worse before, he is bad. Therefore He Must Be STOPPED!!!!

      • by haruchai ( 17472 ) on Friday March 23, 2018 @03:46PM (#56315109)

        You do know why. Because Trump is evil and therefore anything he does is bad. Even if other people did it worse before, he is bad. Therefore He Must Be STOPPED!!!!

        Yes he must. Not because he's evil but because he's vain, easily manipulated and, in the words of the former CEO of the world's largest oil company, a fucking moron

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          The same could have been said of Obama. Being vain or a moron are not disqualifications from being president.

          • by haruchai ( 17472 )

            The same could have been said of Obama. Being vain or a moron are not disqualifications from being president.

            Wrong. You can say what you like about anyone, doesn't make it true. In Trump's case, his egocentricity & stupidity are demonstrable.
            And especially obvious to those close to him.
            In 2012, Grover Norquist said "we just need a Republican with enough working digits to hold a pen to become POTUS".

            With Trump, the GOP got their ultimate tool.

  • I've never used bookFace on this browser, or on any phone or tablet...

    and of course never clicked on bovines...

  • Facebook's just going to add him to a list of developers to audit, probably! Look: He even said he still has the info!

    I might still be able to; all the data is still there, stored on my private server, where Cow Clicker is still running

    I'm pretty sure that retaining Facebook user details is specifically against the developer terms, and it was even back when Farmville was still all the rage.....

  • I own property in NYC and it's already public record where I live and what I own. So you combine with other data and find out that I surf porn. Big deal, pornhub is huge because millions of other people do so as well.

    WTF are you going to do with the data? sell it? Everyone else already has this too.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I own property in NYC and it's already public record where I live and what I own. So you combine with other data and find out that I surf porn. Big deal, pornhub is huge because millions of other people do so as well.

      WTF are you going to do with the data? sell it? Everyone else already has this too.

      As your name states, you are but a low, meek, known coward, with nothing to lose, which does not represent the common person.
      Additionally it's unlikely you have ever been the target of true hate or prejudice, otherwise you would understand how powerful that data is in the hands of a powerful advisary.

      • If you had a "powerful enemy" they wouldn't need to aggregate metadata to find out about you. They would do so directly.
        • Having the data easily accessible lowers the bar for what constitutes a "powerful enemy". Now if you want to ruin your life there's no need to piss off some state actor with government databases at their fingertips, you only have to piss off some random guy on a message board posting from his moms basement with access to google.

          For example, with enough real details about you and sufficient motivation, I could create a fake social media presence in your name, get it all "verified", post a bunch of hate-fi
      • Additionally it's unlikely you have ever been the target of true hate or prejudice, otherwise you would understand how powerful that data is in the hands of a powerful advisary.

        Where I live you don't have to declare a political party for the regular elections, but you do for the primaries. There have been rumors that some of the Aldermen and city workers are discriminating against people based on what ballot they take. Work for the city and take a Republican ballot? You just might be passed over for that next promotion. If you're a homeowner the Alderman might just ignore your complaints. We even have one that has his staff monitor people's social media postings that are crit

  • Anyone who has every looked at Facebook's Graph API knows that when you build a "Facebook App", you have the option to ask for more detailed access to the user's information (basic public profile information which you could screen-scrape anyhow is included).
    The user gets a quite clear pop-up where he has to allow access to this information.
    Once in a while, Facebook even tells the user "Hey! You might wanna go through your enabled Apps and disable some!"

    So I don't understand the outrage? User permits dev
  • The thing is it's not "your" data if you live in the United States. Europe has strict data protection laws, the data belongs to the person who provides it and you may only use it for purposes they have already agreed to. This actually causes problem with things like medical research where it's actually illegal to use new techniques against old samples because people did not agree to the new use. You have to go back to them and get consent which can be inconvenient, costly or even impossible if they are d

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