Cow Clicker, a parody Facebook game, collected personal data from 180,000 people back in 2010-2011.

If you don’t remember “clicker” games, Farmville was a famous example. These were games where you logged into Facebook every few hours, clicked something, then sent annoying invitations to your friends so they could click things too. Ian Bogost, an indie game developer, hated these games, so he made an intentionally stupid parody of them: Cow Clicker.

The premise: you have a cow, and every hour you can click it. That was just about it.

A decade later Bogost still has access to vast amounts of user information. Here he is writing for The Atlantic:

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.

Bogost isn’t going to use this data to do anything nefarious, but the same can’t be said for every app you gave access to Facebook in the early 2000s. It’s worth thinking about which apps you give permission to access your Facebook, because it has implications years from now.


Oh, and if you’re curious about Cow Clicker, there’s a fascinating On The Media segment about the game. Please listen to it: it’s hilarious how far what started as a parody game ended up going. People paid real money to have a cow facing right instead of left, and there was eventually a Cowpocalypse. It’s nuts.

Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
Read Full Bio »