Free Car Wash via SMS

As I was going through the dead trees version of the Minneapolis StarTribune this morning, an article grabbed me: Kids phone in car-wash scam From cell phone to cell phone, word rippled through town: Use this number for a free car wash.

For anyone still not aware of the acceleration in network-based swarm communications behaviors, look no further than this example:

Over several weeks, cars carrying high school and college kids lined up six or seven deep outside Severson’s Food Plus convenience store in Austin, Minn., waiting for a touch-free/cash-free wash.

With the stolen maintenance code programmed in their phones or memories, they ripped off at least 1,000 washes, police and store officials said Thursday.

Though I chuckle that NO ONE managing the store noticed such a huge spike in washes over several weeks without a commensurate amount of cash showing up in the daily receipts, for any of us building online applications or other systems that could be exploited or “gamed,” this shows how even a small loophole or piece of useful information can propagate exponentially with just one person initially leaking it.

Out at Etech I was in a conversation about Twitter, swarming and the upcoming US presidential election. If you recall, the last election cycle saw protestors at the Republican and Democratic convention sites relegated to fenced in areas out-of-sight and out-of-mind effectively rendering them impotent. My premise in this conversation was that people — probably dressed in clothing that will make them appear to be innocuous or like young Republicans — will suddenly swarm and coalesce in a protest as a flash mob…then dissolve back into the crowd before police can react. Rinse and repeat.

In the same way that the Internet is designed to route around bottlenecks or damage, so will flash mobs route around controls in political protesting and friends of friends of friends who need free car washes (and who’ve discovered a loophole in an application or a system) will send it. With mobile phone’s being ubiquitous, I predict we’ll be seeing A LOT more stories like this one.

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