Cow Clicker’s example is so modest, it might not even seem like a problem. What does it matter if a simple diversion has your Facebook ID, education, and work affiliations? Especially since its solo creator was too dumb or too lazy to exploit that data toward pernicious ends. But even if I hadn’t thought about it at the time, I could have done so years later, long after the cows vanished, and once Cow Clicker players forgot that they’d ever installed my app.
This is also why Zuckerberg’s response to the present controversy feels so toothless. Facebook has vowed to audit companies that have collected, shared, or sold large volumes of data in violation of its policy, but the company cannot close the Pandora’s box it opened a decade ago, when it first allowed external apps to collect Facebook user data. That information is now in the hands of thousands, maybe millions of people.
Even a simple, now-defunct Facebook game that involved clicking on pictures of cows could gather information about you without you being totally aware it was happening. The writer goes through how he built a Facebook game, and how he could have (but didn't) exploit the data he inadvertently mined.
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