Who Deleted Me App that let FB users track people who deleted them, was bullied into removal by Facebook
Facebook has always been in the limelight due to its controversies and it is at it yet again. An independent developer had introduced ‘Who Deleted Me’ app for both Android and iOS allows users to keep track of their friends list and find out who deleted them, but was sadly cornered by Facebook to delete it.
The App was created by Exeter-based developer Anthony Kuske. However, a couple of weeks ago, the app was removed from both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store after Facebook asked Kuske to remove the app for violating its platform policies. The “Who Deleted Me” browser extension for Google Chrome was also disabled.
Kuske in a blog post says “Who Deleted Me was intended to be a useful tool to enhance users’ Facebook experience, but Facebook did not see it the same way.” He also added that due to its popularity it reached over the past week, it resulted into server issues.
According to TheNextWeb.com, the app would simply remove the information from the friends list on Facebook, which was already available on the site. But, this process was automated due to the app.
The whole problem started when Kuske did not use Facebook APIs for Who Deleted Me app. According to Facebook’s Terms of Service, any developer making an app that integrates with its platform must use an API. This is discussed clearly defined in rule 3.2:
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.
Further, the platform policy also states that developers must “respect the limits we’ve placed on Facebook functionality.” Kuske’s Who Deleted Me without any doubt did not comply with both the rules.
Kuske was sent a takedown letter by Facebook which clearly states “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 picture associated with rule 4.4 clearly states that what ‘Who Deleted Me’ had done no other service should be doing that.
The question here is what is that Kuske was doing not legal? Kruse was sent a letter regarding Who Deleted Me by Perkins Coie, a law firm claiming to represent Facebook, stating that writing the app “created a severely negative user experience.” The letter also states (in bold text) that the app’s action of violating Facebook’s Terms of Service is “illegal and must be stopped immediately.”
Additionally, the law firm also writes “In addition to breaching Facebook’s terms, your Facebook-targeted application may violate the federal and state laws. See Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 and the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, Cal. Penal Code § 502(c).”
That’s “may violate” the law — not ‘is definitely’ illegal.
Just because Kuske’s friend was mentioned on the app page footer, Facebook went ahead and disabled Kuske’s personal account, along with this friend of his. However, they both later reactivated their accounts, but Facebook has legally prohibited the two from using its APIs forever.
When Facebook was contacted to comment on the “illegality” issue by TheNextWeb, they declined. Facebook’s Terms of Service does a good job of freeing itself from responsibility in the event an app or service does not comply with its terms; however, nothing is mentioned regarding a developer being sued in the event any rules are not complied with.
Kuske says that he feels that he took down Who Deleted Me down app from Facebook too early. “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” said Kuske. “It’s pretty scary when this huge company start threatening you with legal action.”
Perkins Coie cited the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act and said that it clearly states 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.”
Legal tangles is nothing new for Facebook, as it has already gone through this path before against a corporation that avoided its rules to gather data.
There are questions on Facebook’s strategy of involving an independent developer to do something it did not like. The company not only disabled his personal account but also rejected his access to APIs forever.
Facebook could have thought of a better way to get this issue settled. They could have let Kuske know that the app had not complied with its terms, and provided him some time to kill the app forever.
So, here’s a food for thought for Facebook. It would have been better if Facebook would have directly reached out to Kuske instead of its legal representatives and not used personal as well as legal means to settle the matter with him. This is something that Facebook may want to think the next time it gets in touch with developers.