Creepy “Take This Lollipop” Site Offers Warning About Giving Away Personal Info

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 18 2011 3:59 PM

Creepy “Take This Lollipop” Site Offers Warning About Giving Away Personal Info

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Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Beware of strange websites with candy?

Torie Bosch Torie Bosch

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

The most viral (and, depending on your point of view, perhaps vile) site of today has to be Take This Lollipop. But wait, don’t click on it yet! Let me tell you about it first, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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When you open up the site and click on an image of a blue lollipop, you’re prompted to allow Take This Lollipop to access your Facebook profile. This is standard stuff; for instance, if you want to use your Facebook profile to comment on a website—say, Slate—you agree to such access. But Take This Lollipop demonstrates exactly what you agree to when you hit “OK.”

In a stunning display of interactivity, the site shows a creepy video, a couple of minutes long,  showing a dirty, creepy man, his fingerstips caked with grime as he points his way to Facebook. There, he accesses … your profile. The site takes the information from your Facebook page and seamlessly weaves it into the video. You watch as the stalker looks at your photographs, your recent status updates, your list of friends. Then he pulls up Google Maps and finds directions to your home (geographic data contained in your profile). He hops into a car, your profile photograph taped to the dashboard. The scene ends as he gets out of the car, presumably to track down his target—you. As horror movies go, the plot’s pretty thin. But it’s still jolting to see yourself cast as the victim.

It is unsettling to watch, particularly because the technology is so good. Here’s an example of the site in action.

So what’s going on here? Is it a public service announcement? A viral campaign for an upcoming horror movie? As several observers have noted, it’s nearly Halloween. Jason Zada, a digital marketer who has worked on such projects as OfficeMax’s Elf Yourself, has taken credit for Take This Lollipop. The idea isn’t totally novel: Intel’s Museum of Me also mines your Facebook account, and a German site similarly puts you into a video with an eerie end. But Take This Lollipop is nevertheless creating a stir online. Fast Company’s Jacob Berkowitz sees past the creepy and is excited by the business opportunities:

[T]he format itself is a great showcase for the potential of socially-enabled, seamlessly interactive video as genre entertainment. Here it’s horror, but the device would work in another context and genre. Of course if this is meant to be a public service message about privacy, it may be a little counterproductive--the video does nothing so much as demonstrate the entertaining upside of making your life an open book.

But the technology still needs a little tweaking. Ad Week’s Tim Nudd notes, “[T]he guy somehow got my location wrong, so apologies to anyone who gets attacked down in Tribeca today.” The program also ran into problems with my info. Recently, a friend traveling overseas found a bottle of tequila for sale that had my last name—Bosch—on the bottle. She tagged the photo of the booze with my name. At one point in my customized Take This Lollipop video, the stalker caressed the tequila bottle.

Take This Lollipop has been experiencing some outages, presumably because of high traffic. But if you really want to watch yourself get stalked, keep trying. You know what you’re doing now.

Read more on the New York Times Bits blog and Fast Company.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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