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Why Facebook Strong-Armed an App Developer and Crushed His Viral App

    A popular application that let Facebook users know which of their friends had unfriended them was shut down on Wednesday in a controversial move by the social networking company.

    Who Deleted Me was created by Anthony Kuske to be a “useful tool to enhance users’ Facebook experience,” but the company “did not not see it the same way,” according to a blog post by the independent developer.

    Kuske told The Next Web that his app works by scraping information from users’ friend lists and then automating the process to reveal when and if other users unfriended, blocked or visited their page.

    While Kuske’s idea was well received by many Facebook users, it was not well received by Facebook, which claims it banned the app because it violated the company’s terms and services agreement.

    Facebook said that developers must use an API to integrate with their platform, and rule 3.2 of the company’s terms of service agreement specifically states:

    “You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our prior permission.”

    Additionally, rule 4.4 of the company’s platform policy bars developers from creating applications that notify users when someone unfriends them or views their profile page. The policy also states:

    “Respect the limits we’ve placed on Facebook functionality.”

    Because Kuske did not adhere to those provisions, Facebook sent him a cease and desist letter through law firm Perkins Coie that read, in part:

    “Your app shouldn’t circumvent Facebook features or functionality. For example, your app shouldn’t notify people when someone unfriends them or show people who viewed their timelines.”

    The letter cited the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, which states that it “affords protection to individuals, businesses, and governmental agencies from tampering, interference, damage, and unauthorized access to lawfully created computer data and computer systems. It allows for civil action against any person convicted of violating the criminal provisions for compensatory damages.”

    While the wording of the letter was not completely objective, it was enough to scare Kuske into taking down his app. In addition to the letter, Kuske’s personal Facebook account, along with that of a friend’s who was unassociated with the app except for a note on the footer of the app’s page, were temporarily disabled. After their profiles were reactivated, Facebook banned Kuske from using its APIs.

    Looking back on Who Deleted Me, Kuske regrets not putting up a bigger fight against Facebook. He told The Next Web:

    “As time goes on, I’m getting more certain that I was actually doing nothing wrong and Facebook just bullied me into shutting [Who Deleted Me] down. It’s pretty scary when this huge company start threatening you with legal action.”

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