In light of the ongoing Facebook blowup, Ian Bogost revisits his 2010 “Cow Clicker,” an ironic spoof of the pointless Facebook games that encouraged you to exploit the attention of your friends.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal is drawing attention to malicious data thieves and brokers. But every Facebook app—even the dumb, innocent ones—collected users’ personal data without even trying. | 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. I made a little money from the whole affair, but I never optimized it for revenue generation. I certainly never pondered using the app as a lure for a data-extraction con. I was just a strange man making a strange game on a lark.