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Social Fixer Falls Victim To Facebook Legal Threats 194

Posted by timothy
from the which-battles-to-fight dept.
rueger writes "The author of the very excellent Social Fixer browser plug-in is bowing to legal threats from Facebook and removing the core functionality that made his tool so great. I like Social Fixer a lot. It makes Facebook at least three or four times more usable. The author, Matt Kruse, says 'Any threat of legal action is a big deal. I am a one-man operation. If I were sued for whatever reason, I would find it very difficult to defend myself, even if it was without merit. I would be risking my personal life to maintain a tabbed news feed for users. As much as I'd like to be your Robin Hood, I just can't do that to my family.' Bizarrely, when he asked Facebook why they don't also threaten Ad-Block, the Facebook rep claimed to have never heard of it." Kruse has some surprisingly nice things to say about his interaction with Facebook, too. Reader Daniel Dvorkin points out this commentary at BuzzFeed which points out Twitter's similar policies.
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Social Fixer Falls Victim To Facebook Legal Threats

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  • by Jonah Hex (651948) <hexdotms&gmail,com> on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:02PM (#45047507) Homepage Journal
    It started as a GreaseMonkey script, why can't that particular functionality be open sourced? The few times a month I'm forced to go on Facebook I make sure my Social Fixer is up to date, especially since I want to be signed out of chat automatically. Having all the games and apps on a separate tab is nice too. - HEX
    • Previous status:
      - Matt gets small donations for his pet project, uses Facebook happily, has a Facebook fan page with 200,000 followers
      Current status:
      - Matt is under threats he can not financially challenge (see reasoning in article), so he has to make a choice. Facebook demands removal of a few (key) features.
      Option A:
      - Fight legally. Costs: Facebook can ban Matt, keep his fan page removed, and destroy his life.
      Option B:
      - Comply. Matt gets his fan page back, and can continue

      • by Jonah Hex (651948)

        Option C (what you are suggesting): - Open Source it. Matt won't get any donations anymore, Facebook can still block him, keep his fan page removed. Matt also mentioned that Facebook has added FBPurity and other projects to a list of URLs that can not be shared on Facebook -- so they could do that too with a open source project.

        The Tab code could be spun off as a separate open source project, which is what I suggested, not that he open source the entire thing.

        Additionally who says open source can't ge

      • A list of URLs that cannot be shared on Facebook? Are they blocking all the URL shorteners?

      • Yep, choose your battles wisely. (re:sig).
    • by manu0601 (2221348)
      I moderated you down by mistake, now posting to undo moderation.
  • I didn't jump on this fast enough--is there a way to get a fully functional copy now?

  • by msauve (701917) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:06PM (#45047541)
    It cost less than $50 to form an LLC in my state, which insulates your personal assets from business ones.
    • Only if you have enough lawyers. LLCs and Corporations for one-person entities have a very, very thin corporate veil.

      • by icebike (68054)

        LLCs for Corporations have never been pierced.
        LLCs for sole proprietorship have only rarely been pierced.

        Your Personal finances are pretty safe behind an LLC, that is after all precisely what they are for.

        • You could call it rarely, but when you look at the subset of "low grossing individuals who starts an LLC in order to shield himself from this sort of attack" rarely becomes often.

    • Re:LLC (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:13PM (#45047589)

      That's a great theory, which will survive about 5 seconds when an army of corporate lawyers come after you under the United States' legal system. Corporate shields are good for some things, but they are not completely judgement-proof, and the US does not have a general loser-pays policy to guard against bringing cases of questionable merit against people without the resources to defend themselves effectively.

      • by bmo (77928)

        " but they are not completely judgement-proof,"

        Unless some sort of financial malfeasance can be sufficiently proved the corporate veil works. Look at what happened with TheScoGroup . You'd think that IBM would have the power to pierce the corporate veil and nail Microsoft for champerty. They didn't.

        --
        BMO

      • by HiThere (15173)

        The problem with "loser pays" is that if they are "bringing cases of questionable merit against people without the resources to defend themselves effectivelly", and they have a strong legal department, they will likely be able to outlast the party they are attacking, and thus win by default. So you will be required to pay their expenses.

        IOW, it's not a solution. A solution might be to limit the amount each side can pay to a mutually agreed limit...but I can't imagine the corporations agreeing to that, as

        • That is only true if the loser is guaranteed to pay, which isn't strictly the case in any jurisdiction I'm familiar with (though IANAL and YMMV). Where I am, as I understand it there is effectively a presumption that the loser will cover the costs of both parties in most cases. However, the judge still has to actually award those costs as part of the process and they can exercise some discretion in the sort of situation you're describing where the two parties have wildly different resources available.

          For ex

        • ...

          Okay. Look, what you do is set up or buy TWO incorporated entities. For software, you release it BSD open sourced, i.e. closed source. Put source out on a website with a deep link anyone can get to.... but won't, since it's not in the site (or search) index.

          First one gets sued, you drop it like it's hot. Bankruptcy. Keep trucking along with the 2nd corp, and acquire or create yet another entity. "... rest assured, this will be the sixth time they have destroyed it, and we have become exceedingly

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Pay your own side, but you get reimbursement if you win.

          Or we should just give up and concede that the rich will always win no matter what.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      That still doesn't stop someone from suing you in person.

    • >It cost less than $50 to form an LLC in my state,

      And $1000 to a CPA and $2000 to a lawyer annually, to stay an LLC. I only know this because we're in the process of changing the family business from a sole proprietorship to an LLC.

      • by msauve (701917)
        Nope. $25 annual filing fee.
        • Sure, and everything else is free because you can do the initial paperwork and annual filings yourself. If issues arise from an amateur completing complex IRS forms, you can also represent yourself in court. Any spare time remaining can be devoted to DIY dentistry and rerouting the local gas main so you can run a barbecue in your bathroom.

          I was involved in a website that formed a foundation to manage the site, and the only reason it remained fairly cheap was because a tax attorney kindly volunteered his tim

  • THE Matt Kruse!?! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:10PM (#45047559)

    Whoa, that name was oddly familiar, and then it hit me - he ran the first ray-tracing competition, back in the great POV-Ray era.

    http://www.mattkruse.com/raytracing/?bwf0d=12778 [mattkruse.com]

  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:12PM (#45047585) Journal

    If they don't know what AdBlock is...wow, that's just sad.

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:41PM (#45047733) Homepage Journal
      Facebook makes about $16/year/user [techcrunch.com] in English-speaking North America—and it's believed that about 10% of all web traffic is ad-blocked [clarityray.com]. I'm guessing there are some other people at Facebook who are aware of this situation!
      • by HiThere (15173)

        Well, if I used FaceBook, this would inspire me to use adblock and block every ad they carry. Normally I just avoid sites that are too ad-heavy...this would inspire me, however.

        • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Sunday October 06, 2013 @01:46AM (#45049139) Homepage

          I use Facebook and Adblock and block almost every ad they carry. Right now, that nukes the entire set from the right hand bar. Facebook knows perfectly well how many people block those easy to filter right hand side ads. It's low enough that they don't care, because they have a few ways to give you internal ads instead.

          What they are doing now is putting more and more ads in the main section instead. If for example I click to "Like" a post from a group, the minute I do that it rewrites the page to add an inline "If you like that you might also like..." set of ads. These aren't blocked by Adblock because they're all internal links toward other pages on Facebook. As they get more an more infrastructure for that sort of thing, they don't have to leave their regular content to serve you an ad. That makes eliminating ads an increasingly tricky game of detection and rewriting the middle of the main page. And that's exactly the thing that Social Fixer did that Adblock doesn't try. That's why Matt Kruse is being targeted while Adblock isn't. He's the only popular source for code that can block all their ads, even the internally directed ones, and that they won't tolerate.

    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      Of course they know about AdBlock. Their claim was just a diversionary "no comment" tactic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:20PM (#45047625)

    As if we really needed another one. What a joke of a company.

    • by Dogtanian (588974) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:44PM (#45047751) Homepage
      Well, as I said previously [slashdot.org], the problem with Social Fixer was that they *were* giving people a reason to use Facebook by making an app that *temporarily* alleviates some of the inconvenience caused by the latter's behaviour and policies without actually forcing- or even encouraging- them to change. Then failing as soon as Facebook change things round again.

      They've designed an app that automatically jumps when Facebook wants their users to jump. It fixes nothing in the long term; quite the opposite, by making it marginally more comfortable to stay with Facebook, they're hiding and drawing attention away from the fundamental issue, which is Facebook's behaviour, business model and contemptious attitude towards its users. Only they have the power to change that, and they won't. The only solution is to encourage people not to use Facebook, and Social Fixer is a hindrance in that respect.

      Social Fixer might seem helpful on the surface, but it's part of the Facebook ecosystem, and part of the problem, not the solution.
      • by epine (68316) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:15PM (#45047893)

        part of the problem, not the solution

        This kind of logic is itself part of the problem. It presumes that people are engaged in the political dimensions of their life activities everywhere and always. Now perhaps you think the world would be a better place if this were true, and you might have the view—from within the confines of your evidently narrow and sheltered life—that we all have limitless capacity to politicize our every twitch and sneeze. But we don't, and it's not effective.

        I have a range of issues where I'm especially well placed (though aptitude, knowledge, experience, and social connections) to speak out loudly and effectively. The rest of the time, like everyone else, I'm merely trying to get through life without succumbing to death by paper cut. Facebook is a cancer, so I don't go there at all, but if I did, I wouldn't regard Social Fixer as part of the problem. I'd regard it as a dry pair of socks, so I could live to hike another day.

        But sure, if your boots pinch, burn your socks. It's true: you won't ever buy a bad-fitting pair of boots ever again. Too bad about those refrigerated vaccines you were trekking into a remote African village. Better luck next year.

        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          This kind of logic is itself part of the problem. It presumes that people are engaged in the political dimensions of their life activities everywhere and always.

          It doesn't presume that at all. On the contrary, it rests on the assumption that the complete opposite is the case- that most people aren't that bothered about it in their daily lives unless the problem is clear.

          If people were the way you implied I thought they were, by definition, this wouldn't be an issue.

          Now perhaps you think the world would be a better place if this were true

          I don't; you mistakenly assumed that I did.

          from within the confines of your evidently narrow and sheltered life

          This is only "evident" to you on the basis of words you put into my mouth, or at least beliefs you felt free to assume I held.

          But sure, if your boots pinch, burn your socks. It's true: you won't ever buy a bad-fitting pair of boots ever again.

          This is a poor analogy.

          It's mo

      • Well, as I said previously [slashdot.org], the problem with Social Fixer was that they *were* giving people a reason to use Facebook by making an app that *temporarily* alleviates some of the inconvenience caused by the latter's behaviour and policies without actually forcing- or even encouraging- them to change.

        It didn't really fix anything. Why anyone would give any information to such a website is beyond me.

  • Don't mention what the fuck it does or anything.

  • Retaliation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BigBadBus (653823)
    I use Social Fixer all the time and while I haven't used any of the exotic features like tabbing that people are so enamoured with, I can see how they could be a great boon to some users. But I feel that Kruse is being naive in asking people to respond to his comments about Social Fixer and Facebook's demands. When his Social Fixer page was eradicated, he and his admin staff were suspended by Facebook. By venting their spleen on his current page, users are identifying themselves and do you really think Face
  • by guanxi (216397) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:57PM (#45047795)

    Clearly justice is denied when one party can use the threat of a lawsuit to compel another to capitulate, simply because they can't afford to defend themselves. Everyone knows it works this way. Why don't more people object?

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @10:36PM (#45048521)

      Why don't more people object?

      For the same reason he doesn't; You learn early in life if you stand up for what you believe in, authority will make an example out of you. So you learn to fly under the radar, and cherish those precious few moments in life when you can do good without being punished.

      It's youthful idealism to think people will risk their freedom, their home, their financial security, their family, to combat an injustice. Especially against a vastly better equipped adversary like a large corporation with an excessively-sized legal department and millions or billions of dollars to burn... and full access to a legal system that can take away everything you own and away from everyone you know, at the snap of a gavel.

      The few people who can't give up their idealism to become "successful" (that is, capitulate to the demands of the dominant social institutions of their era) very rarely manage to achieve social change -- the Ghandis and Martin Luther Kings to the Che Guevaras, etc., in a socially acceptable fashion. The majority simply become homeless, outcast from the system, develop mental or physical illness, and die early, and generally alone. And then there's the extreme fringe that, so frustrated by an inability to accomplish anything, take themselves out of the picture in a hailstorm of bullets or fire. Terrorism can promote social change, though it's politically unpopular to say this.

      But as you can see... idealism is not particularly practical, which is why few people practice it except in small doses.

  • by Danathar (267989) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @07:58PM (#45047805) Journal

    "It makes Facebook at least three or four times more usable"

    You know what makes Facebook more usable? Not using Facebook.

    Yes, I just burned Karma.

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:08PM (#45047849)
    First they create an API to help engender an ecosystem that attracts developers to improve the platform and thus bring in more users. Then after the ecosystem is established and FB goes IPO for billions they start pulling the rug from underneath the third-party developers that helped get them there. FB deserves a fate worse than MySpace.
    • by asmkm22 (1902712)

      Facebook is a company which exists solely to make money. As long as people continue using it, and putting up with their crap, then they will continue to focus solely on making money. That's neither good nor bad; it's just market forces at work. You are free to go use another service, or create your own to replace it.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        No you are not free to go and make your own if the established players can trump up legal attacks on you and force you out.

        • by asmkm22 (1902712)

          They can't do that anymore than MySpace could. If you make a service that's better than facebook, people will flock to it. Yes, it would have to be WAY better than facebook, just because it won't be easy to convince people to actually move, but that's not at all due to facebook throwing lawyers at you.

          But yes, I understand it's easier for people to just complain about a situation than it is to actually take responsibility and change it.

  • by FudRucker (866063) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:10PM (#45047853)
    QUIT USING FACEBOOK!!!

    i dont have a facebook account, no twitter account. no myspace account, i refuse to sign up to some lamer social network and spill my guts about my personal life to the world, if you knew my real name and googled it you wont find any information about me, no photos of me, because i refuse to upload that information to the internet, you have to learn to use the internet without letting the internet use you
    • THIS THIS THIS THIS

      So much this.

      My policy is exactly the same.

      I used to hate how the web had outgrown the internet. I use the Internet a lot more than I use the web. I usually keep more SSH connections than open tabs, and my torrent traffic far exceeds any web use. Well, we're coming to an even sadder reality: Not only has the web eaten the Internet, a handful of websites are eating the internet.

    • by Isaac Remuant (1891806) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:52PM (#45048085)

      You have slashdot account and you voice your opinions and activities in it (telling us what you do and don't have). If that's not social I don't know what is.

      Comments like

      if the niggers in the ghetto were not such a bunch of criminal gangstas then racism would not be an issue,

      the bleeding heart liberals and ghetto niggers can holler "racism" all they want, and i will holler "go to hell nigger gangster" because i have a right to know where the danger zones are despite it being populated with mostly trashy criminal niggers

      and many, MANY others can be data mined and tied to you (don't think a pseudonym and alternative mail account do much in the way of privacy).

      You have absolutely no grounds on telling other people what to do or giving advice about "not getting used by the internet".

      • Slashdot also lets you read it, even post, without an account.

        Likewise, you can view a Twitter feed or follow a link to a tweeted pic, even through you don't have an account. Ditto a Myspace band-page (or whatever people use Myspace for.) I believe G+ is the same (not sure. I have a gmail account, and thanks to their insistent cross-liking, I apparently have every other G-account.) In other words, they are all "on the web".

        Facebook requires you to have a Facebook account and logged in merely to read a posti

  • by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) <almafuerteNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:16PM (#45047897)

    The solution to this is obviously to avoid facebook/twitter and all that shit like the plague.

    Regardless, how can they sue somebody for doing a fucking greasemonkey script? "This software tinkers with our webpage" seems to be their logic. Well, so does every browser on planet earth. HTML is a declarative language, you REQUIRE a user agent to interpret your webpage. Essentially, you are telling the user "well, here is this information, and we think it should be displayed sort of like this". That's it. The user can either parse the code on his own (aka just read the source), or write some code to do it, or use somebody else's code to parse it. How are the actions performed by this script any different from what any browser does?

    If you publish a website, everytime it's displayed, you are acting as GUESTS in my computer, no the other way around, and you'll play by my rules.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      They can sue someone because they have money to burn on a legal budget, and for no other reason.

      This is simply a case of might makes right.

  • Okay, where is the most effective place to send hate mail or equivalent to Facebook? As many of you know, FB is almost impossible to contact directly or actually speak with a live person despite them employing thousands of them. Even their telephone number only leads you to a number of different messages and voice mail boxes that appears to mostly be dead-end bit buckets.

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @08:50PM (#45048073)

    by making Facebook "3-4 times more usable", it reduces the time people spend stuck with burdensome Facebook advertising and workflow to access desired material. In other words, it reduces Facebook's revenue for advertising from those links and burdensome clickthroughs. _Of course_ they object, and _of course_ they feel he's in violation of his terms of service or even more severe contract violations for interfering with what they try to sel to the advertisers and customer tracking companies, who actually pay Facebook's bills.

    Why is there surprise that Facebook's legal staff and management would threaten the tool author over this?

    • Ironically, Facebook's advertising is amongst the least intrusive around - for now. They also provide means to give them feedback (on the website - sadly, their mobile apps are lacking on that account, amongst many others) about which ads you prefer and which you don't want to see. Mind you, their lack of profiling data can show up at times, usually in the form of repeated generic ads being served up.

  • by UpnAtom (551727) on Saturday October 05, 2013 @09:53PM (#45048387) Homepage

    I remember Kruse being very dismissive then.

    Also FB Purity is a much better extension.

    http://www.fbpurity.com/ [fbpurity.com]

  • It's been a while since this quote was apropos:

    The tighter you grip, the more systems slip through your fingers.

  • by Greyfox (87712)
    Maybe he should make his own damn social network. Seems like he has a better idea about what people want from one.
  • Using it may be illegal, especially if you're facebook user and accepted their TOS, which may forbid it. But writing software and distributing it without having a contract with facebook, should not be subject to anything facebook can do?

    And in source code form, it think, it was proven that its free speech.

  • They could just disable the app, right? Why bother with legal threats?

    Everything else: stop pontificating. It's a free platform, they can do what they like with it.
    • SocialFixer is a browser add-on, it runs inside of your browser on your computer. You're thinking of Facebook Apps, which interact with Facebook's back-end through the Facebook Platform, either as web services, traditional software or mobile/tablet apps.

      Agree with your comment about us getting what we paid for with Facebook. Still disappointing, nonetheless, if only because of the potential longer-term repercussions for Facebook's viability - they seem to be increasingly undermining the service's usefulness

  • I read Matt Kruse's blog post last night. Then I read the BuzzFeed story. I think Facebook is using Social Fixer as a test case. If they can successfully shut down apps like Social Fixer while mostly ignoring user complaints, they can become more like WalMart and less like...um....I can't think of a company or product that hasn't gone this route. I guess this is happens to all successful companies or brands. Apple's shine is definitely off since Jobs passed away. The biographies and commentaries about

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