With the turf war between social media services heating up, these services are getting more and more hostile. Startups that were once proud of their open gardens have begun constructing walls to keep out competitors. Recently we saw Instagram pulling support for cards from Twitter, possibly in reaction to Twitter blocking Instagram’s friend import feature. Facebook and Google had earlier tussled over access to contacts data. Now, in a controversial move, Facebook has slammed the ban hammer on F.B. Purity.
F.B. Purity, which stands for Fluff Busting Purity, is a browser extension (actually an userscript) that promises to get rid of all the bloat from Facebook. It filters out the annoying and irrelevant pieces in your newsfeed, such as application spam, ads, and sponsored stories. F.B. Purity’s relationship with Facebook has always been tenuous. Facebook had threatened to ban F.B. Purity as far back as 2010 for infringing on its trademark. However, the developer managed to reach an agreement with Facebook and the script survived.
Now, Facebook is outlawing F.B. Purity because “Facebook’s terms specifically prohibit interference with the way Facebook is rendered to its users”. It also alleges that the script breaks Facebook’s ToS as it doesn’t connect via Facebook API, which is the approved method for interacting with Facebook’s services. Last time around Facebook tried sniffing F.B. Purity to render it useless. However, the developer managed to quickly find a workaround. So, this time Facebook didn’t even try. Instead, it banned the developer’s Facebook account, imposed a site-wide ban on the fbpurity domain, and threatened legal action.
Of course, a cursory investigation of the way F.B. Purity works is sufficient to unravel Facebook’s allegations. F.B. Purity is neither a Facebook client nor a Facebook application. It’s an userscript or an browser extension. It doesn’t directly access Facebook’s services. It’s a client-side script that modifies the page after the browser has downloaded it. In some ways it can be considered to be a browser feature. Hence, its ridiculous to force F.B. Purity to use Facebook’s APIs.
Facebook owns its services, and as such is free to do whatever it feels like. However, its latest complaint against F.B. Purity is simply thinly veiled bullying. If courts start buying Facebook’s logic, pretty much all browser extensions and scripts including ad-blockers and pop-up blockers will become illegal. I can appreciate that Facebook is trying to protect its interest. But, it is doing so by clearly inconveniencing the users and stepping on their freedom. It should be up to the user to decide how he wants the pages to be parsed by his browser, not Facebook.