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Breakup Notifier Shut Down By Facebook (techcrunch.com)
189 points by ssclafani on Feb 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments

It's been a crazy 36 hours since I last posted here about my weekend project. This morning, I woke up to an email from Facebook Platform, saying that the application has gotten disabled.

Full text of the email is at http://lts.cr/PRh

I'm not using stream.publish, and I'm checking for updates as little as possible. Also, it seems it was deleted from my apps...so they didn't just disable it. It's gone for good.

I may open source the code, if anyone wants to run copies. Let me know.

Update 1: I just messaged Zuck, hopefully he can respond with some more details.

Update 2: I tried to appeal the decision using Facebook's little form (http://www.facebook.com/help?faq=17553), but it wouldn't go through for my account. My friend tried it, and it worked. Don't really know what to think about that...

Update 3: Maybe this is a Harvard v Yale thing?

So they didn't even give you any notice, just "boom you're gone"? Disappointing.

Some of the suggestions in "How to respond when Facebook censors your political speech" might be helpful -- http://www.talesfromthe.net/blog/?p=28

Nope, zero notice. It was basically "Poof!" and then the app wouldn't work. Doubly annoying since I was sleeping when it was deactivated (4am PST).

"Zero notice" seems to be a common thing at Facebook. Same happened with my personal account, just gone one day.

To be fair, I guess it was because I didn't have my real name on it but it was the name my blog readers know me by. Several thousands of friends - gone, without a warning.

I currently have about 15 different Facebook accounts, each under false names. So far none of them have been shut down, or even questioned. Maybe it was because you got to such a high amount of friends that they took notice, mine are rather low, around 50 - 100 friends on each account...

Probably. Or your 'false names' are not as 'flashy' as mine! I still thought it was quite harsh to just delete the account without any warning or notice at all.

And I've got a lot of friends who aren't using their real names either and are getting away with it, no idea how they are tracking you down.

Insisting on real names is a big part of what makes Facebook so uncool and corporate to me. I want the Myspace days back, seriously. They didn't care at all.

A lot of people on my list have completely preposterous names that are clearly not real. I've changed mine many times to many stupid things and never had a problem.

Let's hope you get busted for missing the whole point of facebook and are quickly removed.

Honestly, how gutless can you be? Quite the charades you got going there, congrats! If that's what interests you...

missing the whole point of facebook

That depends on if you consider the point of facebook to give detailed, accurate biographical data about yourself away to a company with which you have no monetary relationship, so that this company can then sell it, or not.

They could at least have sent a Breakup Notification. It only there were an app for that ...

It seems, based on the excerpt in the article and the timing, that it may have been hit by an automatic kill/flag type situation.

I wouldn't be surprised if facebook just "borrows" the idea and implements it on their own. They would have a significant advantage due to the lack of API restrictions.

I think FB would get some bad press if they offered a feature like this directly. Not for screwing over a developer (nobody but other developers care about that), but for the privacy violation/stalking feel the whole thing has.

You say that as if bad press or privacy concerns have had any impact on Facebook thus far.

Are you serious? Beacon is gone. When the privacy stuff was hitting the fan, they designed/engineered a totally new privacy console in a week.

They ignore bad press and privacy concerns in order to move the project forward in major ways. Like adding News Feeds, or allowing entirely classes of API interaction (Beacon). They don't do it for little features like breakup notifications.

Neither would I. And they'd be within their rights to do it: a good idea is a good idea, regardless of whence it came.

I wouldn't say that's why it was shut down but facebook data gurus must be intimately aware of stalking as a huge traffic driver and this app tapped directly into that vein. I think other people have already mentioned this application siphoning traffic from their main user landing pages and that's probably why it was shut down.

Could it work as a browser plugin? And more generally, isn't it nearly impossible for FB or any other website to prevent plugins from accessing data as if they were the user?

This was my first thought after reading the title of this thread. Let your users fetch the data for you!

I find it funny that Facebook can be used as a resource for conducting a political revolution, yet they kill this.

They have an advertising model. People who organize political revolts log in and see Che's t-shirts for sale on the right side of the page.

Checking status automatically takes away some incentive from users from logging-on, there by less money for fb. Hence the shut-down.

Somebody else posted a project where they were going to create an app so that people could interact with fb through their email? If that takes off, expect it to be shut-down as well.

A revolution is way less creepy.

For what it is worth at this point, I heard Breakup Notifier mentioned on a nationally syndicated morning radio show (http://www.elvisduran.com/main.html) while driving to work yesterday (locally it was on Z100 in NYC). A belated congrats!

Would love to see your example of scaling a Facebook app on Appengine if you choose to open source.

To others interested, Facebook has a pretty good tutorial/demo app: https://developers.facebook.com/docs/samples/canvas/

"and I'm checking for updates as little as possible." - per user though. Did the gigantic and sudden success of the app perhaps throw out some red flags? It could have been a legitimate automated response by the Facebook system because it wasn't exactly the normal growth rate for an application.

Sure, but that would make sense if they just disabled the application and informed that there was a problem. According to the creator it seems not only was it shut down, but completely deleted.

Although your app was an awesome piece of tech, did it come to your mind that they may have disabled it only because it's slightly disrespectful towards people? I mean there are real people behind every FB face, and a breakup can be sad or painful. Maybe for an undetermined percentage of the population, the effect of breakup notifier may be like a knife in the chest?

More disrespectful than FB leaking out your entire profile and friend list to every single FB game developer and their third-party ad providers? I'm doubtful that "respect" of users plays a role here, or in FB decisions at all.

The email also says "take user feedback [...] into account". So perhaps the automated system isn't that automated after all.

And frankly, I am not surprised if Facebook isn't comfortable having this app around. If someone finds an exploit, and a "who has a secret crush on who" database gets out, that's a pretty major PR-disaster for Facebook. Non tech-savy Average Joe won't care that it wasn't Facebook's fault.

All you have, as a FB app, are a bunch of UIDs though. Not impregnable security, but stealing that data still puts you a long way from being able to say "Joe as a secret crush on Jane".

In the brick and mortar world, it's extremely difficult to secure financing, investment, or even revenue if you're more than 50% dependent on an outside entity for your survival.

Yet in the digital world, 100% dependency on another entity is becoming more and more common. Sounds like a high wire act without a net. Best to find other distribution outlets before you lose your balance.

To me, that is the surest indicator of a bubble-like market. I think some of the recent valuations for companies with many users but no profit nor any obvious business model are dubious at best. However, I think the valuations for companies that depend exclusively on one framework/inftrastructure base provided by another mega-valued company are downright crazy. Companies like Facebook have come and gone before, and when they go, they often disappear into relative obscurity pretty quickly after losing critical mass. Investing heavily in a company built on that foundation is compounding two very high risk strategies, which doesn't sound very smart to me. But then, I'm not a billionaire VC, so maybe I just don't get it. :-)

What you're seeing here is leverage. Basing your business on Facebook gives you very high potential market exposure vs a total dependence on Facebook.

It's analogical to buying shares with borrowed money. You've increased the potential upside, but now the downside is that much more catastrophic.

Exactly. And given what excessive leverage did to the world's financial markets not so very long ago, I think relying on that kind of leverage again in this market is crazy.

This is a really bad argument. You're implying that the leverage discussed here (coupling your product with Facebook) is the same as the leverage that caused the financial crisis. The only thing they have in common is you can use the word "leverage" to describe either of them.

Yes and no. If the companies in question are privately held then to a certain extent the risk is only with investors brave (or foolish) enough to back them. However, what do you think would happen to the tech industry, and potentially the wider world economy, if a big name company suddenly went up in smoke, public or otherwise?

Now, please pause for a moment and consider: it doesn't have to be Microsoft or Apple or Oracle. Some of the crazy valuations are putting much less robust companies within an order of magnitude. If one of them goes, it's going to be big news and stock prices right across hi-tech industry could race to the bottom scarily fast as we've seen before.

If you are, for example, Zynga, then the kind of disaster that could lead to catastrophic failure seems awfully difficult for you to anticipate or control. Likewise all kinds of new companies being built on Twitter and so on, keeping in mind that Twitter (as far as I know) doesn't actually make any money itself yet and could easily be displaced by the next new shiny thing tomorrow.

I'm not saying it's going to happen at all, never mind tomorrow, but there is definitely a house of cards building up here, and of such things, market bubbles are made.

The two leverages have another thing in common - risk.

So if my business relied on airfreight I am leveraged by the airlines, the airport owners, the aircraft makers, the pilots unions, the oil companies ....

So logically anyone who wants to ship a physical product should start by developing their own oil well and aluminium ore mine.

The better analogy would be: if you business depends on Delta Airlines you should have a good chat with other Airlines to expand your business. It' s a common pattern in the non-virtual world that dependency on one exclusive channel/customer (Ask textile producers in Pakistan about IKEA) is prone to fail.

And indeed, if your business depends on airfreight you will also be strongly coupled to the destiny of that part of the industry. There's no need to develop your own oil well, but to have a vision about alternatives is a good thing in that case. Branson's Virgin sells records. And airtravel. And Mobiles. Would he have survived by betting exclusively on Sony MiniDisc ?

Well, for what it's worth, airlines do engage in quite a bit of commodity price collaring in order to ensure that fuel price fluctuations don't totally destroy their business model. This is in some respects de-leveraging at least as far as this conversation is concerned :)

Just imagine that all of the above were owned by the same company/government, without any real competition.

See Zynga.

That's probably a bit overstated. Many, many companies are completely dependent on the Microsoft framework or the Oracle/Sun framework, yet there is not an issue with that.

The bigger issue is they are dependent on frameworks that are still evolving at very high rates. Rapid changes brings a lot of chaos into the equation, which is dangerous from an investment perspective, but that same chaos can lead to unexpectedly strong results as well.

But the difference is they're not dependent on the Microsoft presence. If Microsoft ceased to exist tomorrow (localised meteor strike, let's say), the code running on .NET, Windows, etc. will still work. If Facebook is down, so are you.

That isn't really true. If Microsoft somehow ceased to exist, business would switch away from Windows and products written exclusively for that platform would be toast. The difference is really that for internet/cloud platforms, temporary outages can lead to lost revenue--which everyone developing apps on those platforms hopefully recognizes, especially given Twitter's former reputation for instability.

But the switch would not be immediate, a least giving providers some time to move to other frameworks. As you say, from a slightly different angle, it is the immediate effect that is the problem with relying on facebook or a similar network for your business: if they fall over tomorrow or simply change their rules so your product does not comply, your revenue stream stops that instant and until you can design and implement changes in the product or business model.

I doubt many businesses that have built and scaled their infrastructure on Microsoft systems would overhaul their entire operations just because Microsoft itself disappeared. Consider the amount of legacy systems still in use in large enterprises today; many of these were originally designed by companies that are long gone.

If anything, the collapse of Microsoft would produce many smaller companies competing to satisfy the ubiquitous demand for Windows support.

I don't agree with this at all.

Yes it's true that your products wont stop functioning in the short term, but a dead framework that's no longer supported and updated means you HAVE TO rewrite it using another framework. and we all know how costly rewrites are.

I find the 2 scenarios you listed to have much more in common than not. The main difference is the amount of time you have to react.

> Many, many companies are completely dependent on the Microsoft framework or the Oracle/Sun framework, yet there is not an issue with that.

The difference is that if Microsoft of Oracle/Sun disappear, the framework does not.

There is another rather unhealthy (IMHO) trend in the market today for DRM to be applied to everything. That can mean that products consumers have paid good money for can effectively just be switched off arbitrarily, and that's why I don't personally buy things that are DRM'd in such a way.

Developing for mobile platforms can be similarly risky. For example, my startup has no current plans to build an iPhone app, even though our users might appreciate it. We simply don't trust that Apple will not just arbitrarily squish us and not even notice/care based on their track record to date, and we would rather invest our money in safe platforms like the web. Apple aren't going to stop shipping a browser that can view modern web sites, it would kill their products.

There are many companies 70-100% dependent on a single outside entity; defense contractors.

In the brick & mortar world, you have a lot more capital risk up-front. Digitally, your costs are your minimal-viable software product and your computer resources. The latter you can get pretty cheap and elastic.

On credit applications our business bank specifically asks if more than 25% of your revenue came from one source in the past calendar year.

If you think about it, a typical brick and mortar gets its money from hundreds if not thousands of customers every year (restaurant/cafe, auto mechanic, etc).

Your restaurant/cafe may have lots of customers, but they may be coming to you b/c you're across the street from the movies or a mall. If a primary store in the mall closes (or as in my hometown, a stabbing in the mall scares away customers), your business is pretty dead.

That's why the smart thing to do is open several locations, which is what restaurateurs generally aspire to, for that very reason. Sometimes it backfires, usually it doesn't if the restaurateur knows what they're doing.

Right, but these companies have lots of customers. They just get them from one place.

It's like renting a particular location: it's technically true that you could lose your lease, but that's only a risk to your business's long-term viability if your lease is artificially cheap (otherwise, you'll just move to another place on similar terms). And if your location is a particularly good deal, you should take it, even though losing it would suck.

Online, the same dynamic applies, but with lower transaction costs.

lots of customers

A customer is not necessarily someone who uses your product or service. That's a user. Think of a venn diagram....

You can get revenue from many sources, as in many individual customers, but be dependent upon a single source for your product.

The situation of startups who depend upon an external large business like Facebook, Amazon or Twitter is analogous to a car dealership that only sells one kind of car - say, Saturns. If Saturn stops selling to you or goes out of business, you're going to have to make some major changes.

I work on the Platform team at Facebook and wanted to respond to some of the comments on this post.

Breakup Notifier is an interesting idea and an example of the sort of engagement that developers can get on Facebook Platform (according to our stats this app had ~13k monthly Facebook users).

That said, we've built a number of automated systems that track people’s response to News Feed stories generated by apps to ensure they have a positive experience and to determine if a given app is violating our policies. These systems have worked well, cutting spam by 95% last year alone.

In this particular case, Breakup Notifier triggered one of our automated systems due to an excessive number of negative user reports. The system automatically shuts down access to the app while immediately notifying the developer via email; which is exactly what happened for Breakup Notifier. We take this action to preserve the user experience while giving our developer relations team time to work with the developer to correct the issue. We have been in contact with the developer since he followed back up with us. We hope to get the underlying issues resolved and get Breakup Notifier running again.

We want Facebook to be a great place for both people and developers — and we work very hard to ensure that we are balancing all the factors at play. We think our systems do a reasonable job helping us strike this balance, but we are open to feedback and constantly look to tune how we react to these situations.

Comments, flames, etc. welcomed.

Why was the developer's personal account disabled?

How is the developer supposed to contact Facebook via a disabled user account?

The account was not disabled.

I am not going to go into specific details of what our system does, but we require that the developer verify their identity when we take a policy action on an app.

We do this to ensure that the account wasn't compromised (which could have led to the behavior our system detected).

If you have ever forgotten your Facebook password, it is a similar flow.

We communicate with the developer over their alternative email in these cases.

Thank you for the response. You are a mensch.

This is scary thought. I am a facebook developer. We invest lot of time, sweat and money creating apps. If there is something not right, you contacting the the developer to give them some time fix the issues sounds reasonable. but pulling the plug is sure a scary thought. Everybody wants the users to have good experience. It is face books users. Not ours. While agreeing to that you need some balance. It's the apps made facebook what it is today.

douglasp, you're saying 13K users and the developer is claiming 100,000 or 3M, can you please clarify which is the right number?

And they disabled his personal account too. Not the best way to get yourself to be seen as a good platform for developers.

Disabling his account is either a display of creepy dictatorial power or an indication of incompetence and lack of common sense.

Or, the system that shut him down is automated and triggers 99.9% of the time on spam accounts, and the lockout is a totally sensible default.

An automated system that can't distinguish between a very successful application and a spammer doesn't sound particularly sensible to me.

In the Facebook ecosystem, that's often a very fine line.

Then perhaps these kinds of decisions should not be taken by machines.

The email may well have been automatically-generated. Most people whose accounts are suspended have a very hard time getting in touch with a real person even when they follow instructions on the Facebook site.

All of the above. Activists have been dealing with these kinds of issues for a long time. Facebook's processes are haphazard, they make arbitrary decisions without notifying people, their automated filters are prone to misjudgment, and they usually don't react until an issue starts to get significant attention.

That sounds exactly like the major complaints about PayPal.

Yeah really. What a coincidence! Do you think they might have investors in common?

Meta-question: Will this termination inspire the same anti-"proprietary walled garden" rhetoric as Apple's imposition of new terms for subscription sales? If not, why not?

If not, I suspect it's that most people already understand that a hosted service, like Facebook, is inherently a walled garden, and hence it's not surprising when something like this happens. Apple's control over what you can and can't do with hardware and software that you own is a little more alarming perhaps?

I appreciate that you're taking a user-centric approach to the issue, but the majority of complaints I seem to hear about Apple come from developers who want to deploy on/in Apple's space (which includes hardware, but more often concerns iTunes). These two complaints sound very similar: "company X won't let me do what I want to do in their environment."

And that is the crux of the difference: some people disagree with you that the hardware which they purchased is "Apple's hardware".

Hard to tell what the parent meant, but I took "Apple's hardware" to mean the infrastructure that runs the App Store and iTunes platform (like using Facebook's hardware to run there).

That was a poor choice of words on my part, I was indeed referring to App store/iTunes. I do believe that hardware should be open.

I agree the complaints sound similar. I'm not entirely convinced of the difference myself. I was just positing a likely reason for the difference in reaction to the two situations.

But I will also stick up for the user-centric perspective. I will never forget how Apple treated Google with respect to Google Voice. In that specific case Apple made up some very capricious arguments to avoid allowing an extremely useful app from appearing in the App Store, which would have hurt me directly had I owned an iPhone instead of an Android device.

So jailbreak your phone. Then, re-evaluate 'ragenwalds question substituting "iOS App Store" for "iPhone".

The "just jailbreak your phone" argument isn't useful in my opinion. It's an easy way to avoid the actually difficult questions that arise from what Apple has done with the App Store.

Would "just jailbreak your phone" be acceptable advice to give to your mother, who is always rolled out as the beneficiary of Apple's tight control over the App Store ecosystem, if she were to want to obtain the recently banned Readability app? If not, then we shouldn't be using it as a way to sweep these discussions under the rug.

Isn't jailbreaking circumvention under the DMCA?

It's not circumvention because it was explicitly permitted in an exemption.

HOWEVER, there's still a big gotcha: that permission does NOT exempt you from the "trafficking" provisions of the DMCA. So you're not actually allowed to "manufacture" or "import" a circumvention device.

In other words, it's a catch-22, where you're allowed to do it but denied the means, because you're not allowed to make or acquire the tools to do so.

As to the question about Apple, I don't like this move: it's sort of like they don't want people to let people know all the creepy things people can learn by knowing your entire social graph. But they have no trouble using that data themselves. I solve this issue the same way I do with Apple: I have no Facebook account.

EDIT: This article is about something else, but it has a pretty good explanation of what the DMCA means by "trafficking" and why it's so crazy:


It's possible that a court would exempt you from trafficking if your tool only worked for an exempted work, but nobody has tested this in court, so you do that at your own risk.

Nope, it's an explicit exception to the DMCA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmca#Anti-circumvention_exempti...

Only if what you're breaking prevents copyright violations. Does jailbreaking an iPhone let you copy DRMed content on the phone?

Sorry, I meant to upvote. Fat iPhone thumb.

I think this phenomenon needs a word. How about iThumb?

"Fat-fingering" has been the phrase for a while, but I think there's a consensus that it sounds rather... unappealing.

No. I don't own facebook's hardware. Apple's terms for their app store wouldn't be so onerous if there was another legal/good way to install software on your own device.

Jailbreaking is entirely legal. And jailbroken phones allow for the installation of arbitrary software. So really, iOS Terms are not as big of a deal as you make them out to be then?

I think that the legality of the task is important, but it's also pretty critical how supported that task is. While it's legal to jailbreak, it's also (probably? unknown) legal for Apple to accidentally brick your phone during updates.

Not every device/OS combination can be easily jailbroken. Apple actively fights to keep us out of our own devices, and that has rubbed me the wrong way since I got an iPhone in the summer of 2009. I'll buy an Android or webOS phone next without question.

That we can jailbreak is no consolation for, say, Grooveshark. They put in a lot of work into their iOS app and it's still only available to a relative handful of users on Cydia. It's great we have Cydia but it sucks that you have to join some elite nerd club to use it. Make no mistake, only people who are at least slightly geeky jailbreak devices. Most people cringe at the word "jailbreak" and are scared of bricking their phones. It's a very hard thing to explain to non-technical folk.

Grooveshark focuses instead on other mobile platforms. That's not good for the iOS ecosystem, it's not good for iOS users, and it's not good for Grooveshark. (I can't say that it's not good for Apple because as a result of not having Grooveshark on the store they might be retaining music sales on iTunes.)

The terminology isn't helping, either. "Jailbreak" makes it analogous to illicitly helping convicts escape prison, not reclaiming your right to your own property.

What would be a more positive term? "Repo" would provide a better analogy, but still has some negative connotations; "liberate" sounds far too grandiose.

Why should Apple make it easy to jailbreak? That's spending development resources directly against their own interest.

That said, you have complete access to your own device, but you don't own the OS running on it. If you want to figure out a way to run Android or something else on it, you're absolutely within your rights to do so, but Apple isn't under any obligation, legal or otherwise, to make it easy for you.

As for Grooveshark, it's a shame for them that they're not on the App Store, but it looks like they were for a bit and then got DMCA'd for some reason. There's nothing particular about the app itself that is objectionable for the store, considering Pandora is up there just fine and it seems like they're the same kind of thing. Jailbreak+Cydia is an alternative, but again, it's not Apple's job to make it a viable one.

You're welcome to jailbreak your iPhone and install whatever you want on it. It's perfectly legal, but Apple is not under an obligation to support it, or keep the security holes that allow it in place, or even make it easy for you.

You know, some people view their phone in an intimate, personal way - not much different from their car - so the idea that Apple feel it is their phone and not your phone is rather insulting. Such expectations don't exist when interacting with services.

I've taken two jailbroken iphones into Apple for warrantee work, with Cydia and MyWi sitting there plain as day. I've never had them tell me I couldn't do that to their phone.

I think people are letting their feelings about the App Store color everything about Apple. Ironically, the people with the strongest feelings are the people who least have to put up with it, since they understand how to get around it, whether that be jailbreaking and using Cydia for apps, using web applications, or going with Android.

I was at the Genius Bar when a guy next to me got denied warranty work for having Cydia installed. It's quite irregular, to say the least.

Ironically, the people with the strongest feelings are the people who least have to put up with it...

Perhaps knowing how things could be makes one more upset at how they are, in any situation (not just phones).

Well, first, there aren't exactly many people defending Facebook either here or at TC.

But I think the reason the rhetoric is different is because we've all been buying downloadable apps without an app store for years. It's familiar. So it feels like Apple is adding unnecessary barriers for no other reason.

On the other hand, there is less history of service providers allowing you to use any app to access data they're holding on your behalf.

My guess: no.

Apple's policies involve dictating the terms of outside services being used in their garden.

Facebook's policies involved dictating the terms of their own services being used in their garden.

The moment we lean on closed platform, we would have gotten to the point where the platform owner could define and bend the rules however they want. That is why we have democracy in the first place.

My take is that the two are different simple because Apple matters and Facebook does not :)

If you have a product or service and want an additional presence on iOS it is to provide a better service to your customers and thereby increasing your value to them.

When Apple makes that hard/impossible they are decreasing your value to customers which is a problem to a lot of businesses.

The same is obviously not the case for Facebook except for a limited number of cases.

This introduces a new way to get kicked out of a walled garden: become too successful.

I hate to be cynical, but of course it's always been that way. The only way to get punished in a walled garden scenario is to embarrass the garden owner or bring too much attention to yourself.

This introduces a new way to get kicked out of a walled garden: become too successful.

New way? Being too successful is probably one of the most common causes for being kicked out of walled gardens, usually under the pretext of "policy violation".

Nothing new about it.

Well, let's see if FB really meant to kick the app out. If it's just a matter of unintended behavior from automated filters, it's more an example of "the way to get kicked off of Facebook is to deviate from the norms they expect."

As Zuckerberg says, the system looks for 'outlying' behavior. "If you behave like an average user you should never trigger the algorithms that will get you kicked off." http://www.talesfromthe.net/jon/?p=336


Maybe he should try to be an average 26-year-old instead of such an "outlier."

"Facebook has also, inexplicably, disabled his personal account."

Sure they can try and justify blocking the application by saying it made 'excessive API calls', but how do they justify disabling his personal account?

My guess is that the system that does this is completely automated. The number of API calls his app was making set off a flag for spam/spammer and his account was disabled accordingly.

Until he contacted them I wonder if any human was even aware that his app had been blocked. The interesting question here is how Facebook will respond in this instance.

I'm curious how they'll respond too.

This just gives me the impression that Facebook doesn't approve of successful (indie) applications built on their API.

For this reason I think its fairly obvious that his personal account and the app were pulled for something more than excessive API calls.

I think a more reasonable interpretation is the app was pulled for being spammy and the developer of the app was pulled for being a spammer. I think the implication that there is something sinister in this is reaching.

Breakup Notifier only sent out email notifications for relationship changes for those who explicitly asked for them. You could easily disable it by either personally blocking the app on Facebook, or unselecting those friends.

I wasn't making a judgement about whether I thought it was spammy, but what I considered a more likely interpretation of the available data to be. I'm also lumping everything of the nature "does abide by Facebook's terms" in the "spammy" bucket.

Breakup Notifier's relationship status: It's complicated.

And has reached 3.6 million users overnight. That's incredible! I bet the developer is kicking himself for not monetizing with ads right away, that's a lot of traffic and a lot of money.

That's 3.6 million Facebook users in the Breakup Notifier database, not 3.6 million users of Breakup Notifier.

Since the app pulls in all your Facebook friends, and people generally have a few hundred friends, I suspect the number of users of Breakup Notifier is in the tens of thousands.

It's a lot higher than 10,000 [1].

[1] - Dan told me.

EDIT: (the parent comment once said 10,000, now changed.)

Though people don't usually have unique friend sets--if a group of 10 people all know eachother and are friends on Facebook that's just 10 users.

Yep, I'm kicking myself. And to think I was just about to implement Facebook Credits. Fool me once...

As appealing as 3.6M users sounds, "reach" apps like this often make really bad money. He would've made no more than $500 if he was doing well. He was capturing emails, so that had long term potential, but he wouldn't have become rich from three days of FB user impressions.

it was only a weekend project, only running for a few days before takedown - under those circumstances I'd call $500 a solid outcome, especially when the alternative is $0.

As someone with little experience with monetization, which ad networks do you usually use on a site with - at the time - no traction? Yoggrt, Fusion Ads and Deck Network come to mind, but you can't use nor apply for them, so what does that leave you?

Sites like The Deck aren't really ad networks, they're more like vanity projects for hipster web designers. AdSense would not work well either with no text content.

However CPM banners like Doubleclick combined with affiliate links to dating sites could do very well indeed.

Do you have any article or vendour links I could take a look at? I've struggled to find good banner ads.

AdSense or affiliate ads (i.e., Match.com). No one said it was pretty.


I wonder if he's feeling honoured yet? :-)

> "We’re willing to comply with whatever they want us to (within reason)."

This app wasn't taken down because of "an inordinate number of stream.publish calls."

The question is how this app falls within acceptable behavior. Is it closer in nature to the acceptable practices (such as the FB Newsfeed where you see friends' recently changed statuses)? Or is it closer to behavior that FB wants to dissuade (such as an app showing how many times a given friend has viewed your profile)?

My opinion is that this app does not violate the behavior that FB wants to dissuade. It sends an email that provides information that is already being provided by the user, it does not track or determine information that is otherwise not available.

Is the info being provided by the user, or is the app detecting info that is no longer being provided by the user, i.e. lack of friend status is not the same as a notification that you are no longer friends. If the deal is with regard to the former, I can easily imagine that FB doesn't tell you these things intentionally. If they leave it as a silent disconnect, they can construct their TOU to prohibit detecting connection state since FB does not actually provide that data. I guess in other words, FB may simply prohibit extracting any information from their service that they do not explicitly provide.

I'd speculate that extracting more information here is a gray area in general but it should be clear that this would be the "blackest part" of the gray - ie, potential stalking/exploitation material.

Facebook lets people post where they are when. An app that determines when someone isn't home or when someone is alone in a dangerous area would still be undesirable.

Note also - Friend doesn't let someone explicit reject a friend request and it doesn't let people "unlike". This may seem dictatorial but in many ways it's "good moderation/curation of the space". It's just as logical for Facebook to remove apps that want to add "the forgotten" "reject button"/"unlike button".

I doubt it's a gray area in the FB offices. The strategy is about more info in than info out, so the flow directions are certainly controlled resources. The rules don't even allow you to use someone's FB profile picture unless they're currently logged in. This is an important point.

Facebook also lets you delete updates from your wall, so that it's not obvious something changed. This circumvents that.

I tend to think of these kinds of apps as "slow spiders," which when thought about in that way makes a bit more sense on the FB-ban side.

It's provided by the user, when they switch their relationship status from in a relationship to 'single' it appears on everyone's feed.

Does anything post if you remove your relationship status rather than change it to something else?

It does not, but from what I understand the 'break up notifier' only alerts you when somebody switches the status to single. Not when they hide it.

Facebook does not want to provide that information. Twitter is similar in that they ask you to not publish deleted tweets.

It's not the absence of a status, it's a new one being posted. When somebody switches from 'in a relationship' to 'single' it shows up on everyone's feed. They do want people to know that information.

Anyone know what can get an app shutdown by facebook? Apparently, Dan received this from fb: "For example, if an application is making an inordinate number of stream.publish calls and receiving a large number of user reports". What exactly is an inordinate number of post? Was Breakup Notifier spamming signed up users' post stream to get the word out? Or was it just an extraordinary number of api calls that FB was not use to getting?

I'm sure Facebook will refer to some perfectly vague rules. My guess is that its transgression was to highlight how creepy Facebook is or can be.

Isn't it creepy with the 'See Friendship' feature already?

I wouldn't be surprised if facebook came up with a similar 'Breakup Notifier' feature soon..

My dreams were crushed exactly like this with MySpace. That's why I don't touch the stuff anymore.

Does anyone else remember singlestat.us? They did the same thing (on MySpace) back in 2006. They were shut down almost immediately.


They're probably mad they didn't think of it first.

We will miss the open web.

Did you post to a users facebook stream without asking them explicitly if they wanted to share breakup notifier on facebook? What exactly resulted in the stream.publish calls?

This started to interfere with facebook's own stalking experience so they shut it down. Don't need to be a genius to figure out that out.

Sometimes, when facing an sudden, arbitrary decision with no appeals process, high ceremony seems like a good thing.

Maybe the TOS prohibit this usage of the API? For example the "unfriend notifier" applications are forbidden and Facebook strictly enforces this rule (I remember at least a couple of iPhone applications that got shut down).

Even in this case, they should have given some explanation.

You can always be kicked out of a walled garden.

I'm pretty sure that Zuck is trying to 'own' the internet. Big pity since Tim Berners Lee originally gave it away for free.

Well that was quick. Who's gonna notify the notifier?

You need a Facebook App Breakup Notifier app.

Could I get a copy..:P

Here's a warning to you. Don't develop for Facebook. They essentially are a tyranny, you can't really take them to court for blocking you.

In my more idealistic days, I would have agreed with you. However, if you want to be a pragmatic entrepreneur, you shouldn't lock yourself out of a huge audience like that. It's the equivalent of saying "don't build apps for Windows, they essentially are a tyranny". Well, yes, Microsoft can be a bit tyrannical; however, that's the platform where the money is/was.

Microsoft doesn't ban apps. They don't even have an easy way of doing so.

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