Stolen!, the app that let you buy and sell Twitter users in a fictional exchange, has been taken off the App Store by its developers due to privacy concerns.
The buzzy app’s creators Hey Inc. said in a tweet that the app was shuttering after concerns arose about people’s Twitter profiles being used without consent in the game, which allowed people to “own” each other’s identities. The closure was spurred by an open letter posted on Twitter from a congresswoman criticizing the app for encouraging harassment.
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
The app’s founder, Siqi Chen, elaborated in an interview with the tech site The Verge: “Our goal with taking it down today has just been to make sure we stop what is happening — that we stop the harm, real and perceived, that people are getting from the existence of our product. We didn’t spend hours and months, sweat and tears to build something like this and have people see it this way. This is not who we are.”
The central gameplay of Stolen involved accumulating a virtual currency, which players then used to “buy” other people’s Twitter accounts. It sparked criticism from commentators including Gadgette’s Holly Brockwell and The Guardian’s Leigh Alexander, who pointed out the distastefulness of the app’s tone: when users are “stolen,” a banner appears declaring that they “belong to you now.”
Additional criticism was leveled at the app for the lack of an opt-out option at launch, meaning that if any Twitter user’s account were added to the game (and signing up to play automatically uploads the Twitter accounts of everyone that player followed), they had no recourse; and for the ability to leave a message on the profile of users who had been stolen, which drew comparisons with the similarly controversial (and similarly dead-on-arrival) “people rating” app Peeple.
Despite the media attention, however, Stolen remained small by the standards of a free online game. As of Wednesday, it had just 40,000 users, though that number was artificially low given the fact that the service remained invite-only right up until its death.
The app began life as a spin-off from a social-media app named Heyday, a photo-journaling service that closed in 2014. But Chen already had a long history building popular online games, and so the company decided to pivot to yet another game, according to an interview with Chen in Forbes last week.