A developer who designed a tool to let people essentially delete their Facebook news feeds says he was served with a cease-and-desist letter and permanently kicked off the tech giant’s platform.
Louis Barclay, a developer based in the UK, is the creator of a browser extension called Unfollow Everything. The extension lets users automatically unfollow all their friends and pages on Facebook, leaving their news feed blank. Barclay told people could still connect to their friends and family on Facebook when using the extension.
Barclay published Unfollow Everything on the Google Chrome store in July 2020 and said it attracted attention from researchers at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, who wanted to study the impact of having no news feed on peoples’ happiness on Facebook, as well as the amount of time they spent on the platform.
In July this year, Barclay received a cease-and-desist letter from Facebook’s lawyers, he said. Barclay published a redacted version of the letter online. Insider reviewed an unredacted version to verify its authenticity.
Barclay, who published a Slate article detailing his experience on Thursday, told Insider he received the letter five hours after trying to log in to his Facebook account and finding it was disabled.
The letter, from law firm Perkins Coie, told Barclay that Unfollow Everything broke Facebook’s rules on automated collection of user content without Facebook’s permission and that it infringed Facebook trademarks. It also said Facebook’s terms prohibit interfering with the “intended operation of Facebook” and encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules. It also informed Barclay he was banned from both Facebook and Instagram. A Facebook’s letter took him completely by surprise, he said.
“On top of everything [Unfollow Everything] wasn’t a big program, it got to 2,500 weekly active users, 10,000 downloads and it was definitely growing, but it wasn’t huge. Apart from that I just very much saw it as something that improves the Facebook experience for Facebook users. I got amazing feedback from people saying … they were using Facebook in a way that was much healthier for them.”
Following the letter, Barclay sought legal guidance on whether he could challenge it, he said, but because he’s based in the UK he would be liable for Facebook’s legal costs if he lost, he said.
“Facebook is a trillion-dollar company. I couldn’t afford that risk,” Barclay wrote in his Slate article.
Barclay said getting banned after having an account on Facebook for 15 years was a blow, especially because he still used the platform, and Facebook Messenger, in particular, to stay in touch with friends around the world. Barclay said:
“It’s really horrible to have been cut off from that for a reason that feels to me very unfair. I’ve been trying to reduce my usage of Facebook for years now, including by making tools like Unfollow Everything. So I’m actually pretty grateful to Facebook that they’ve helped me take my addiction levels down to a flat zero.”
Facebook did not respond when contacted for а comment.