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.