It comes out of nowhere and looks like a scam: a notification telling you that someone has stolen your Twitter account.
It actually came from a new social media app that was a mix of Risk! and Foursquare in which users would “buy” a friend’s Twitter account — not the actual account, but in the form of a “trading card” within the app’s social sphere — and then be able to “sell” or “trade” it along with making status posts on behalf of that account.
Still, Stolen! was an iOS app up until today, when it was taken down its owners, Hey, Inc., at the request of lawmakers and after consumer complaints. And there was good reason to worry about it.
US Representative Katherine Clark sent letters to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Apple CEO Tim Cook urging them to suspend Stolen’s access to the Twitter API. Stolen! tweeted to Clark saying that it had “voluntarily completely shut down” until it made fixes.
@RepKClark Thank you. We agree with these concerns so we have voluntarily completely shut down our service until we can make this right.
— Stolen! (@getstolen) January 14, 2016
Stolen! debuted December 31. As of yesterday, about 40,000 people were playing the game. Initiation was invite-only except for verified Twitter users. Users already in the game could only “steal” accounts — described as “trading cards” — they already followed, thus automatically opting those accounts into Stolen!.
Only yesterday did Hey, Inc. add a way for Twitter users to opt-out, but the mechanism required user authentication and the permission to post tweets on the user’s feed. The company then announced it would accept opt-out requests by tweet or direct message. With a flood of people opting out and Stolen! having to respond in acknowledgment, @GetStolen had quickly reached its tweeting limit and were not able to continue responding to requests.
The concepts within the app had more sinister notes to them: prompts tell you without flirtation that you “belong to” this person. “Owners” could edit the profiles and post status updates on behalf of the accounts they own within the Stolen! social sphere (not on Twitter). Furthermore, any given card could be traded, bought or sold with virtual currency. In-app purchases were incorporated for access to more virtual currency — meaning that users could literally buy someone’s social reputation on Stolen!.
Hey founder Siqi Chen had previously founded Serious Business, a Facebook-based games company and had a similarly-structured gamed called Friends for Sale!. That game did not receive as much attention as Stolen!.
Hey, Inc., promised that Stolen! wouldn’t be a “message-neutral” platform and would be actively banning harassers and abusers from the app. The company did not have a preventative policy for addressing trolls.