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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