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Is Facebook The New Phantom Menace?

There was some buzz last week as the managing partner of Facebook application developer Tyler Projects, Leonard Lin, had his Facebook account suspended.

In a post on Facebook, Leonard reproduced the suspension notice:

Hi Leonard,

As you may know, one of your posts in a Facebook group was removed because it was considered to be an advertisement or spam (specifically, an advertisement for an external application). Content that promotes a product, service, or group is always removed from the site. Your account was suspended for these reasons.

However, after a review of your situation, we have decided to allow you a second chance on the site and have since reactivated your account. In order to prevent this from happening in the future, please refrain from posting any such material and remove all outstanding content that violates our Terms of Use. For more information on conduct prohibited by Facebook, please read our Terms of Use, which can be accessed through the “terms” link at the bottom of any Facebook page.

Thanks for your understanding,

Brett
User Operations
Facebook

This doubtless caused on uproar on Tyler’s facebook application BattleStations where Leonard is active in game development and on the discussion boards (as well as being the public face of BattleStations).

His “infraction”?

Posting a link (accompanying a movie review) to a trailer for “Wanted” on a discussion board.

Apparently, Facebook is getting pretty serious with it’s ‘walled garden’ concept – that you should do all your stuff within the Facebook.com domain.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at the Facebook “terms of service” that Brett was refering to, click on the “Terms” link at the bottom of each Facebook page.

A number of the terms look pretty nefarious. For example:

  • harvest or collect email addresses or other contact information of other users from the Service or the Site by electronic or other means for the purposes of sending unsolicited emails or other unsolicited communications;

“Unsolicited” is a relative term. Even if you’re marketing and building a prospect database, all it takes is one allegation and your facebook marketing efforts can be derailed. I am a member of FB groups where I receive almost daily updates. At what point do these become “unsolicited”?

  • “use automated scripts to collect information from or otherwise interact with the Service or the Site;

Again, your FB app could be construed as collecting information (I think we call this “analytics”). Seems a little too broad-based for my liking.

  • “upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any videos other than those of a personal nature that: (i) are of you or your friends, (ii) are taken by you or your friends, or (iii) are original art or animation created by you or your friends;”

Those “funny videos” off TV or cable or satellite you uploaded could get you into trouble.

  • upload, post, transmit, share or otherwise make available any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, solicitations, promotional materials, “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letters,” “pyramid schemes,” or any other form of solicitation;

This step protected FB users from “MySpace Bulletin bombing”. At the same time, I think affiliates and product owners providing a relevant service could get caught in the crossfire.

upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available content that, in the sole judgment of Company, is objectionable or which restricts or inhibits any other person from using or enjoying the Site, or which may expose Company or its users to any harm or liability of any type.

“Objectionable” is going to be a fairly subjective criteria, especially if it hasn’t been explicitly spelled out. Would Google’s OpenSocial API be considered ‘objectionable’ if FB users jumped ship to MySpace or LinkedIn because those platforms gave a higher Quality of Service?

In other words, would an API providing cross platform compatibility and leaking traffic from FB to another social network be seen as “objectionable”?

At the moment, aside from pretty broad reaching legal terms drafted by FB’s legal department, the transparency for Facebook developers and users remains an unknown until these boundaries are breached.

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