Facebook Faces UnFaced.com
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Facebook will tell you that its most valuable asset is its deeply engaged, Web-savvy user-base.
But sometimes you have to wonder if the company didn't wish those users were just a tad less engaged or just a tad less savvy.
Take the latest efforts of another passionate Facebook user, John Arrow. He's a sophomore at the University of Texas and he owns and and operates UnFaced.com.
After users register on the site, UnFaced e-mails them a link to add to their Facebook profile pages.
Then, when other Facebook members click on the link in that profile page, UnFaced records their visit. It gets the name of the visitor by offering a free compatibility test.
On the site, Arrow calls UnFaced a "fun add-on to the already addicting Facebook.com."
Facebook isn't giggling. First Facebook shut down Arrow's personal profile. Then, Facebook engineer Andrew Bosworth sent Arrow something of a cease and desist e-mail.
"I'm sure you meant the site in good fun, but [UnFaced] is a serious violation of several clauses of our terms of service including automating against the site and storing site data locally which attempt to circumvent our carefully built privacy tools," Bosworth wrote in his e-mail.
Bosworth also objected to the use of the word "Face" in UnFaced, suggesting that it might violate trademark laws.
"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction from Facebook," Arrow told internetnews.com.
"They are just worried that something could upset Yahoo buying them," Arrow said, referring to recent reports suggesting that Facebook turned down an $800 million acquisition from the Sunnyvale, Calif., company.
Facebook could not be reached for comment.
But a former social-network owner and operator told internetnews.com it's more likely that bit about "automating against the site" that's got Facebook so testy.
He said that UnFaced is not only scraping proprietary content from Facebook's site, it's also "automating against the site" to get past a login process.
It's not that he would have tolerated it when he ran his own social network. He thinks Facebook will do next what he would have done: block Arrow's IP address from accessing any Facebook data. Arrow admitted that he's "scraping" data from the Facebook profiles, but said it shouldn't matter because UnFaced only did so at the behest of users who gave Facebook that content in the first place.
But if it comes down to a question of content ownership, the former social-network owner thinks Facebook comes out on top.
Like any user-generated content, user data belongs to the site on which it's uploaded.
So will all this force Arrow to shut down UnFaced.com?
"Absolutely not. It's out of the question."