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People Will Give Away Their Personal Information for an Actual Cookie

I’ll take two oatmeal raisin and a high risk of identity theft

(Arman Zhenikeyev/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

People seem to have a fickle relationship with privacy and the security of personal information. We balk at Google knowing our searches or at companies buying and selling our email addresses. We flock to social networks that promise us that our data is our own. And yet, given the chance, some people will willfully trade important personal details for a cookie.

No, really, people literally gave up crucial personal information for cookies—partial social security numbers, photos, mothers' maiden names, fingerprints, photos, phone numbers, driver's license numbers... for cookies.

These bits of information are way more important than email addresses and search histories: they are the missing pieces needed to socially engineer your way into someone else's life. And the trade—“the keys to my identify for a cookie, please”—was conducted in the shadow of a legal notice saying the person behind the ploy, Risa Puno, had the “right to display the information and share it with others,” says Lois Beckett for ProPublica. And here's Slate:

A cookie frosted with the Instagram logo was so popular that Puno required “buyers” to hand over the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, their driver’s license data, and their fingerprints, all of which was totally fine, because who needs a protected legal identity when you have a cookie with an Instagram logo.

“It is crazy what people were willing to give me,” Puno told Beckett. Puno, an artist, managed to collect some measure of sensitive information for 380 people at an arts festival in Brooklyn.

The artistic experiment is confirmation of the idea that people really just have no sense of what information and privacy is worth other than, variably, a whole lot or, apparently, a cookie.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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