Facebook’s entire business model rests on its users (and their data), so it stands to reason that the company would do everything it could to prevent them from quitting. Tech entrepreneur Louis Barclay learned that the hard way when he built a tool called Unfollow Everything that allowed users to get rid of their News Feeds. In response, Facebook sent him a cease-and-desist letter and permanently deleted his Facebook account.
The tool Barclay built allowed users to keep their friends, but “unfollow” every user, page and account they were connected to, effectively emptying their News Feeds. However, through a series of legal threats, Facebook shut him down and killed his product. Now, he wants lawmakers to think harder about the power Facebook has to prevent people like him from helping users.
“If lawmakers and regulators are serious about empowering users to stand up to big tech, they need to address the ways in which platforms stymie user choice, including through terms of service,” Barclay wrote. “Platforms shouldn’t be able to wield the threat of lawsuits and account suspensions against researchers and developers who create tools that merely empower users — but as my experience shows, they can and do.”
Because of its broad terms of service, Facebook has a lot of leeway to crack down on users who mess around with its code. But still, it’s a bad look for the company to be so openly hostile to researchers and developers like Barclay.
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