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Facebook Goes After Greasemonkey Script Developer 375

Posted by timothy
from the you-must-enjoy-our-obnoxious-messages dept.
palmerj3 writes "The popular Facebook Purity greasemonkey script (now renamed Fluff Buster Purity) has been used by thousands to rid their Facebook feeds from the likes of Mafia Wars, Farmville, and other annoying things. Now, Facebook is threatening the developer of this script. Does Facebook have the right to govern their website's design and functionality once it's in the browser?"
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Facebook Goes After Greasemonkey Script Developer

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  • No... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:04AM (#31622412)
    No. They don't...
    • Re:No... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:40AM (#31622620) Homepage Journal

            You have to consider the American legal system. After they're done threatening legal action, then they'll drag him into court. It won't be a one-hearing thing either. It'll span years. They may get a court order that he can't develop nor distribute such software until the conclusion of the case.

          Say he wins in court. He can continue to distribute his software. That's assuming he can afford legal representation for that long. Most normal people can't financially handle a prolonged court case, so even if he started fighting it from the start, he'd run out of funds and do exactly what they tell him to.

          If he loses in court, it'll cost him an absolute fortune. They can hire better lawyers, and keep it tied up in court for years. Ok, now he has to stop distributing in the future (since they probably got the court order to not distribute for the duration of the court case, he'll be faced with fines, and probably Facebooks legal fees.

          So his choices are to stop, and accept it, or to fight it and spend every penny he has in court.

          Someone like Facebook doesn't mind spending the money to drag it through court. It's "encouragement" for others not to do the same thing.

       

      • Re:No... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cbope (130292) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:16AM (#31622762)

        Mod parent up. This is precisely what is wrong with the American legal system. Even if you do no wrong, companies and corporations can drag you through the legal system and exhaust any funds you have trying to defend yourself.

        Even. If. You. Have. Done. Nothing. Illegal.

        Rampant abuse by shady lawyers doesn't help either, since they get paid no matter who wins a case.

        • by El Jynx (548908)
          Very true.. the only thing we can to is Streisand Effect it as much as possible to help slap Facebook in the face. Maybe even set up a dedicated group resenting this move. Who knows, they might get the point. But it looks like we're seeing Microsoft's grubby little fingers in FB policy again.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by networkBoy (774728)

            depending on the state the developer is sued in/resides in he can file a SLAPP motion. This allows a judge to consider the merit of the case pre-trial and either dismiss or allow the case to go forward. If the case goes forward the fact that the SLAPP was not upheld is not permissible as evidence.

            It's a powerful tool for the little guy and was developed for just this reason. Also, some states allow for a "SLAPP-back" provision thus he may get some income from this.
            -nB

        • Re:No... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by msclrhd (1211086) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:14AM (#31623312)

          Also, if Facebook wins, it will set a precedence. It will mean that potentially, anything that modifies a website from what the website author produces will be illegal.

          This means all greasemonkey scripts and AdBlock Plus/other ad blocking technologies as these modify a sites look from what is intended.

          It may also be applicable to mashup sites that take content from other sites and combine it, although this is different to the above, so would need to be tested in court.

          It could also mean that developers are less likely to innovate in these areas for fear of being sued. There is always the possibility of being sued, but having this as a precedence would increase that chance.

          There are some options, though.

          If I were the developer, I would seek help from the FSF and/or try to find a lawyer willing to do the case pro-bono.

          • Re:No... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by msclrhd (1211086) on Friday March 26, 2010 @05:24AM (#31623358)

            Ah, this is a trademark issue, not a "we don't want the script modifying our site" issue.

            I can kind of see this for "Facebook", but then the developer is not creating a "FaceBook2" or "NewFaceBook" site that competes with Facebook.

            Like others here, I don't see Fluff Busting (FB) being a trademark infringement though. If it is, it is rather tenuous.

          • Re:No... (Score:5, Funny)

            by dindinx (24418) on Friday March 26, 2010 @08:39AM (#31624592) Homepage

            Also, if Facebook wins, it will set a precedence. It will mean that potentially, anything that modifies a website from what the website author produces will be illegal.

            This means all greasemonkey scripts and AdBlock Plus/other ad blocking technologies as these modify a sites look from what is intended.

            Hum, this would make IE illegal too!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:43AM (#31622900)
        FSF could take over his legal cost. And then facebook is fucked, because the publicity combined with the probability that FSF would not drop the issue, would force them to accept and put them in a bad light. The question is could in such a case the FSF try to get the judge facebook to pay for their lawyer cost if facebook lose, which they would do.
      • by Nikker (749551)
        The beauty about not making money off of it is you can just post the code somewhere and stop hosting it, let it go viral. Facebook has to face the fact that people are still using the site but just don't want to see some certain updates. I bet if someone came up with a game that the object was to put your hand over the screen in the area of a Mafia Wars update that it would violate / hurt Facebook's feelings and you (or I guess I would) get a lawyer sending me junk.
      • Re:No... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:57AM (#31622956) Journal

        You have to consider the American legal system. After they're done threatening legal action, then they'll drag him into court. It won't be a one-hearing thing either. It'll span years. They may get a court order that he can't develop nor distribute such software until the conclusion of the case.

        I am not very familiar with the legal system so I will post my question here:

        In the scenario you posted above, could it happen in reverse?

        Say ... a class action suit suing Facebook for infringing on the Users' Rights, since the greasemonkey thing is taking place on users' browsers, with nothing to do with Facebook's server site.

        Would that class action suit be valid?

        Can someone in the legal profession please help sorting this out?

        Thank you !

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        They may get a court order that he can't develop nor distribute such software until the conclusion of the case.

        ... and if they do, you'll see hundreds of other similar scripts get passed around.

        Also, they can't mandate how a browser displays a page. That would require that they block text-only browsers, junk-busting proxies, etc.

        Besides, who in their right mind friends anyone who plays farmville or mafia wars?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by wireloose (759042)
        Facebook probably has a valid complaint. If you follow the links all the way to the author's page, you will note that he calls it "Fluff Busting Purity, also known as F*** B*** Purity" and he continues to use the F*** B*** and F.B. terms throughout. It's pretty obviously just a smack in their "face." If he wants to avoid lawsuits, he should just name it "mysocialnetwork purity" or something completely unrelated to FB. Then they could do nothing about it.
        • Re:No... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Friday March 26, 2010 @07:36AM (#31624106) Homepage Journal

          I disagree. Facebook doesn't really have a claim of infringement, any more than Paramount has a claim against the book "The Science of Star Trek". It refers to the protected name without claiming ownership or competing in the same market. All the site and the script comments need, really, is a disclaimer that it is not in any way associated with Facebook or their related properties.

          Facebook already got Streisanded here. By grasping at the only available straw (the name), they've helped the script get noted by the Slashdotters, and it will be impossible to stop now. Even if the original script site is ordered removed, multiple branches will be created, since they can't forbid the underlying code.

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Raleel (30913) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:05AM (#31622418)

    Sorry, you distributed content, we can throw it in the trash if we like

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't even go that far. They merely suggest to your browser that the content be downloaded/displayed. The greasemonkey script just ignores the suggestion.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tanuki64 (989726) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:14AM (#31622484)

      Sorry, you distributed content, we can throw it in the trash if we like

      This is common sense. Not much worth in court.

  • by Dayofswords (1548243) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:05AM (#31622420)
    here comes the Streisand effect
  • by assassinator42 (844848) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:06AM (#31622424)

    You can hide all news feed posts from a certain application without using any addons. I don't see why they would be against this. I half-expected the "going after" him in the headline was to offer him a job before reading the summary.

  • I would hope not (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TikiTDO (759782) <TikiTDO@gmail.com> on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:08AM (#31622434)

    Once it's in your browser, it's just a bunch of well formed data. These days almost any browser has extensions that may inadvertently modify this data, even without getting into specific tools like Greasemonkey.

    If they really feel that strongly about a topic, they could try to obfuscate the data somehow, to make it more difficult to write such an extension. This would not be too hard on their part, though obviously more computationally expensive.

  • Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel (530433) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:09AM (#31622448)
    Of course they don't, but it doesn't matter because the developer can't possibly afford to defend himself so he'll comply because it doesn't matter if you're right if you're homeless. I wish judges were a little more liberal with SLAPP summary judgments against litigious corporations.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mysidia (191772)

      Hm... so perhaps it makes sense to attribute software you write to your worst enemy (instead of you), if the software is likely to be controversial?

      That way it'll be your worst enemy (whose name is on and in the software) that they try to sue, instead of you

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:09AM (#31622450)

    I'm going to install it now.

    Thanks for bringing this to script to my attention, Facebook!

  • It's no problem... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iztehsux (1339985) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:10AM (#31622454)
    I don't see how this is any different than running noscript, or redirecting entries in your host file to 127.0.0.1... Even if this does go to court, I doubt Facebook would come out on top. Explaining to someone how browser content can be modified on the fly using GreaseMonkey might be a little tricky. No harm, no foul. Good luck Facebook, you money-hoarding bastards.
    • by jack2000 (1178961) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:23AM (#31622532)
      loopback is messy, use 0.0.0.0 instead. No connections to your own host, i actually run a simple http webserver on my machine.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        loopback is messy, use 0.0.0.0 instead. No connections to your own host, i actually run a simple http webserver on my machine.

        Huh? Unless you've configured your webserver to only bind to specific addresses, then 0.0.0.0 is practically the same as loopback.
        Try it yourself - "ssh 0.0.0.0" (or just "ssh 0" - does the same thing with a lot less typing).

  • Thank you Facebook (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mukund (163654) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:12AM (#31622462) Homepage

    You don't let me export my data directly. You play games threatening to disable my account if I try to export the data by using a 3rd party script. Your employees are able to access my private information easily. I just hate logging into your website these days.

    I'm going to delete my Facebook account. I can hear how my friends are doing by calling them once in a while.

    • by mdm42 (244204) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:01AM (#31622710) Homepage Journal
      And you'll find yourself with a shitload of newly free hours in the day in which you can do all sorts of stuff. Write a book. Write some free software. Learn a new language. You'll amaze yourself with just how much you can achieve in just one hour extra a day.
    • by TheSpoom (715771)

      You can't delete your Facebook account unless you contact them with a (good) lawyer. You can only disable it, which only stops the emails. Your account remains accessible to everyone and, of course, every last shred of information about you remains in their database.

    • by cbope (130292) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:09AM (#31622750)

      Whatever you do, don't delete your account. That just gives FB a snapshot of your current profile to keep for all eternity. If you want FB to keep as little data on you as possible, it's really quite simple although it requires patience. Gradually remove all information and apps from your FB profile, in the end leave only the bare minimum that's required to keep the profile alive. Then leave it that way for a while, at least a year or two. Then delete the account.

      FB can't possibly keep backups of every state of your profile and eventually they will be overwriting your older data with your updated and reduced profile footprint. Eventually this means they will have little data on you. Do it gradually, so it does not trip un-known snapshots of your profile which might be saved for longer.

      • by afidel (530433)
        FB can't possibly keep backups of every state of your profile

        If they consider it valuable information of COURSE they can, duh. If Mozy can backup unlimited data for $5/month then obviously valuable business data that takes almost no storage can be backed up indefinitely.
      • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:45AM (#31622914) Homepage

        Gradually remove all information and apps from your FB profile, in the end leave only the bare minimum that's required to keep the profile alive.

        I remember watching a video of a Facebook developer giving a presentation on their data storage architecture. I can't find the video, but the gist of it was that they use a homegrown flat file structure for archiving data which includes image data. External to the archives is an index which points to offsets into the archive files. New data is appended at the end and deleted data gets dereferenced, so the deleted data still resides inside the archive. The developer even mentioned that it was possible to recover the deleted data and then proceeded to speek a little on the privacy concerns because technically the data persists forever because they don't run jobs to condense the archives. This is non-intuitive to even well informed users.

      • by paziek (1329929) on Friday March 26, 2010 @07:28AM (#31624048)

        Thats weird. Here in Poland you can ask company/whoever to delete your personal data and they have to comply. And I mean DELETE, not stop displaying. It means no backup, not on paper, not anywhere.
        If you don't comply with such request, you will be forced to stop using ALL your personal data storage, in with case if Facebook had (they do?) some data center in Poland, they couldn't use it anymore, at least not for personal data.

        Seems like a common sense for me, keeping snapshots of personal data even tho that person doesn't want you to? What the shit?

  • by trawg (308495)

    Now I know how to get rid of all that shit (short of culling my noob friends).

    Thank you, Streisand effect!

  • by unity100 (970058) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:17AM (#31622494) Homepage Journal

    even the mention of this story will upset their pr in dev community A LOT. we web developers, contrary to some who are developing for more closed platforms like ipod, do NOT like being herded, goaded, or ordered about. this will have consequences.

    • by Tanuki64 (989726)

      this will have consequences.

      Yeah, an article in /. nothing more. Face it, on one caring developer come how many sheep who do not care at all?

  • by rhythmx (744978) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:20AM (#31622514) Homepage Journal
    Can I not telnet to facebook.com on port 80 and make a request by hand? Sorry, but their copyright ends after they distribute a URI over HTTP. What I do with the response is my prerogative. My browser does anything it wants to with your data... even if I'm not using a browser to connect to tcp/80 at the time.
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Maybe you should look up the meaning of "copyright". Then maybe you even realise that this whole story has nothing to do with copyrights. And also that copyright doesn't end with giving you a copy of that data.

    • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:00AM (#31622706) Journal

      A while back, there was a company that was editing copyrighted material and distributing their edits. I'm too lazy to look it up here on Slashdot, but you could go buy an R-rated movie from them and they would cut out the appropriate naughty bits to make it a G-rated movie which they would send to you. Needless to say, the studios shrieked to high heaven and the courts shut it down.

      So, if I create a webpage and copyright it and you create something that modifies the copyrighted material and distributes it to the user, could we say that you have violated my copyright? With software to rip DVDs and such coming under fire, the courts seem to be saying that, "Yes, you can write your own tool to do it for your own personal use and we can't do anything about it. But if you try to distribute a tool which helps people violate copyright, you're in trouble."

    • by Tim C (15259)

      NO, copyright does not end after distribution over HTTP.

      However, copyright has nothing to do with this. If I buy a book or a newspaper, I am not allowed to copy it and give it to others; but there is nothing preventing me from taking a pair of scissors to it and removing sections I do not want to read. I could tear out every other page and burn it if I wanted to.

      I really fail to see how this is any different, except that I am instructing a piece of software to do it for me.

  • I don't use Facebook (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OrwellianLurker (1739950) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:41AM (#31622622)
    I have a Facebook account that I signed up with bogus information to check something out once, but I don't remember which email I used to sign up or my password. However, I do happen to have a brother in college who extensively uses Facebook to connect to his campus' "scene." He is not one of those [mean adjective] people who plays stupid Facebook games and spams everyone with them. I think he'll enjoy knowing about this, and I know many of his college friends despise the annoying Facebook games. So, as a result of their attack on this developer who is breaking no laws, I am reading this /. post and my word of this wondrous script will be heard directly, and indirectly, but many Facebook users. Congratulations Facebook, you just shot yourself in the foot to spite your face (that's how it goes right?).
  • lite.facebook.com (Score:3, Informative)

    by hitmark (640295) on Friday March 26, 2010 @02:43AM (#31622638) Journal

    having lite set as default, and having the switcher link for those times when the feature is not yet ready in lite, helps greatly.

  • Let us have this discussion in facebook.. why waste slashdot resource for this ;-)
  • Allow me to answer this with a complex, well-thought out, rational and legalistic response: No.
  • What threat? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:18AM (#31622774) Homepage

    The link in the Slashdot article links to a blog which links to a Facebook page which links to an ad-heavy web site and a Twitter log. Nowhere is the actual "legal threat" defined.

    If the legal threat is real, post it to Chilling Effects. [chillingeffects.org]

    • Re:What threat? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Little_Professor (971208) <littleprof&dodgeit,com> on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:43AM (#31622898) Journal
      They aren't making him remove the script. The summary (and the script's author's site) are misleading.

      This is purely a trademark issue. Initially the guy called his script Facebook Purity, a clear violation of FB's trademark. He changed the name to Fluff Buster Purity but also still markets it as F***B*** Purity, which is again a violation of Facebook's trademark, albeit a little more tenous.

      If he just changes the name to something else there will be no issue. Noone is forcing him to take down his script, he just has to rename it to something that doesn't violate Facebook's trademark. Facebook are being no more evil than the Mozilla corporation who tightly control the Firefox trademark, even though the software itself is open source (hence Iceweasel etc and other silly names for adaptations of the software).
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Alinabi (464689)

        He changed the name to Fluff Buster Purity but also still markets it as F***B*** Purity, which is again a violation of Facebook's trademark, albeit a little more tenous

        Tenuous is the understatement of the century. I am not a lawyer, but I find it hard to believe there is anything in trademark law that grants such broad rights (on any combination of two words with initials F and B). If it does, I guess Microsoft owns My Wiener.

  • by cheros (223479) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:24AM (#31622810)

    .. to never ever using Facebook. Hurray! :-)

  • On your computer, running an 'app'/'script' on your browser on your computer with your bandwidth.
    Its all local.
    All I can suggest is a firefox web2.0 edition.
    To the web presents a perfect clean firefox with all all options running, to you the user its script ready and never shall the two layers meet ;).
    As for facebook, we the net using population cannot help your profit dreams.
    Unless you build a wall with a password and pay per play entry- your 'experience' is open for all on any browser.
  • lite.facebook.com (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amchugh (116330) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:30AM (#31622836)

    Does this script give you anything that lite.facebook.com doesn't already?

  • Instead of threatening the dude for writing the Greasemonkey script, they should maybe be thinking about why people want to use this script in the first place. If a major portion of your website users find part of your site to be that effing annoying, then fixing that portion of your website to be less annoying is a more important issue than the existence of a Greasemonkey script. Facebook needs to go shopping at the Clue Factory Outlet.

    I also agree with others in this thread who have pointed out the Stre

  • by iJusten (1198359) on Friday March 26, 2010 @03:41AM (#31622890)
    Facebook has inbuilt "ignore this"-feature. Every post has an X on the top-right corner, click it, and you can choose do you want to ignore application or the user who spams your newsfeed (in case you don't want to lose him/her from your friendlist). I did this months ago, and since then I've forgotten that Mafia Wars even exist.
    • by ZxCv (6138) on Friday March 26, 2010 @04:12AM (#31623004) Homepage

      FB Purity blocks entire categories of posts: all application posts, 'x became a fan of y' posts, and others.

      Facebook's built-in hiding is done on a app-by-app and person-by-person basis. So every stupid new app that comes out has to be hidden individually.

      • by iJusten (1198359)
        Thankyou for clarifying :)

        However, there are relatively few programs that spam the news-feeds, and I find that "x became a fan of y"-posts are usually quite useful in later communication with the mentioned person. For this reason I don't see why (1.) the script has been written nor (2.) why Facebook would be interested about script with such a narrow potential user-base, particularly as this doesn't seem to cut into their ad-money.
  • by julesh (229690) on Friday March 26, 2010 @04:41AM (#31623118)

    I see no details in the article. Looking at the developer's site [site50.net], it seems their actions are:

    - Shutting down the facebook profile associated with the script. This is poor behaviour, but entirely within their rights: it's their web site, if they don't want to support stuff like this it is their choice to do so.
    - Threaten to take legal action to seize control of a domain called "facebookplus.org", which the author claims is entirely unrelated to him.

    So, what's the big fuss about? The former is annoying, but hardly "threatening to close him down"; the second appears to be a case of mistaken identity which will go away if he ignores it. Or is there some other threat I haven't seen?

  • Missing the point (Score:4, Informative)

    by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday March 26, 2010 @04:56AM (#31623212) Journal

    Lots of people here are totally missing the point.

    Facebook isn't trying to stop people from writing scripts that modify the content of the page (get rid of spam), and if it were to go to court, this would not be the subject of the court case. The actual complaint is a trademark violation one for using the term "Facebook", and later, "FB". It also seems their lawyers are unable to do a whois search because they are also demanding he turns over a domain to them that he doesn't actually own.

    However, the "cease and desist" (from the scant information that's actually avaialble if you go to the author's web page) is solely about trademark issues. Nothing about what the script actually does. This may or may not be heavy handed, I don't know - but what I can tell is that it has nothing at all to do with what the script does, merely what it was called.

  • by misfit815 (875442) on Friday March 26, 2010 @08:08AM (#31624332)

    Never heard of this until now. *Definitely* looking into it.

  • by altp (108775) on Friday March 26, 2010 @08:51AM (#31624708) Homepage

    Maybe its time we start pushing distributed social networking.

    Think "HelloWorld" from years ago, but more modern. HelloWorld was great, just ahead of its time.

    http://www.cooperatingsystems.com/index.htm [cooperatingsystems.com]

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