Application Developers: Don't Be Surprised If Facebook Changes The Rules When You Do Something That Hurts Users

We saw early on that Facebook was willing to change policies and their API in order to protect users against clearly black hat/spammy applications, or ones that break the terms of use with users.

A new Facebook application called Break Up, created by FaceItApps, may lightly trip both of those problems. The application tells you when someone has removed you as a friend. Currently (and thankfully) there is no notice to the other person when you remove them as a friend. Sometimes they’re just a little too creepy. Antagonizing them with a friend removal notification could make them worse. So Facebook has chosen not to notify people when they are removed as a friend, and it’s one of the features I like about the service.

Break Up automatically tells you if you’ve been removed as a friend. It’s a relatively simple application. But since this information isn’t available through the Facebook API, it probably requires the use of scraping of your friends sites to see if you remain a friend (this was one of the issues Facebook had with what Plaxo was doing), or else just hammering the getFriends function in the API over and over.

There service itself is not currently violating Facebook’s terms of use, and the application is live. But they are still waiting on inclusion into the Facebook directory. In an email to the Break Up developers (which they forwarded to us), Facebook said:

We sincerely apologize for the delay, but we are currently in the process of reviewing this application to ensure that it does not violate any of the site’s Terms by allowing users to view which of their friends have removed them from the Friend List. Break Up is one of the first applications we’ve seen to include this functionality, and we appreciate your patience as we decide our policy going forth. We will inform you as soon as a conclusion has been reached.

FaceItApps was clearly looking for sympathy from us in sending it to our attention. But when it comes to user privacy, I tend to see things as a bright line. The application is in a grey area that hasn’t yet been contemplated by Facebook but is clearly something many users won’t like. The fact that they are likely scraping to get their data just puts them in a worse position.

If you are contemplating an application that is within the strict guidelines of Facebooks terms of use but is questionable when it comes to user privacy or Facebook’s server stability, don’t be surprised if Facebook puts you on hold and changes the rules. It’s in the long term best interest of the network and its users to block it, and therefore also in the best interests of Facebook employee’s stock value.