That escalated quickly
Since our article yesterday about the enormous problems with iOS app Stolen, which allowed people to buy and sell others’ Twitter accounts like trading cards without their permission or knowledge, creators Hey Inc have pulled the app from the App Store and declared they’re shutting it down “until further notice”.
We've decided to shut down the Stolen! app and service until further notice. Thank you for everyone's support.— Stolen! (@getstolen) January 14, 2016
Stolen also tweeted to Congresswoman Katherine Clark, representative of Massachusetts, who’d written to Apple’s Tim Cook and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey urging them to cut off Stolen’s access to the app store and Twitter API until changes were made that would prevent harassment.
@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
The app is no longer available in the App Store. We've heard everyone's concerns and have decided the best thing to do is to shut down.— Stolen! (@getstolen) January 14, 2016
We asked Hey Inc CEO Siqi Chen, who we interviewed for our initial article, for clarification. He told Gadgette, “Stolen as a concept with collecting and owning and opt out rather than opt in is dead. Forever.”
Asked whether it might be returning in some form, Chen responded, “We don’t know. All we know is everything that has caused controversy is dead and the perception is abhorrent to us.”
It’s not hard to see why Hey Inc would pull the app.
Since news of Stolen spread today, Hey Inc has been deluged by mass opt-outs from enraged Twitter users who were not aware their details had been added to the ‘game’. The app automatically uploaded the username, profile and photo for everyone followed by anyone using the app and allowed players to pay to ‘own’ other people’s accounts. Yesterday, Stolen told us they had 40,000 active users – which means hundreds of thousands of people had been added to the app without their permission. Many were entirely unaware of the service, and only found out they’d been ‘bought’ when they received gloating messages stating they now ‘belonged to’ someone – often a complete stranger.
Unsurprisingly, this caused outrage and concern, and Hey Inc didn’t seem to have considered the problems at all:
They also didn’t seem to have noticed the potential issues with their nickname system, which allowed anyone who ‘owned’ an account to write whatever they wanted on the profile page, filter free. When we pointed out the enormous potential for harassment (eg. Gamergate supporters buying Zoe Quinn and writing threats on her page), Chen told us they’d have to “grind for a month” to earn enough in-game currency to do that. But it transpired minutes later that users could just buy the currency, which meant Hey Inc would be directly profiting from harassment. Again, this hadn’t occurred to them:
To add insult to injury, Stolen then added an opt-out mechanism which required Twitter authentication (account access) and the ability to post tweets on your behalf before you were allowed to remove yourself.
After we called them out on the hypocrisy of opting people in without their consent but demanding account access to leave, Hey Inc added an option to opt out by tweet or Twitter direct message (DM). As the story spread today, they received so many DMs and tweets that they went over Twitter’s limit and were left unable to respond to messages.
It’s presumably this deluge of bad feeling and mass removals that’s led to the decision to withdraw the app. The website has been taken down, and the app is already gone from Apple’s App Store. We’ll be interested to see if Stolen returns in another form, or whether it’s gone for good.