Unfollow Everything. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Facebook Bans Unfollow Everything Developer For Life

Louis Barclay loses his Instagram account too

Charlie Osborne

London – Oct. 20, 2021

The developer behind a browser extension designed to tear our eyes away from Facebook says the company has banned him for life for his actions.

Louis Barclay is the creator of Nudge, a Chrome extension for “making the internet less addictive.”

According to a study conducted by Pew Research, 49 percent of Facebook users said they visited the network several times a day, and other studies suggest social media users, on average, spend 145 minutes per day visiting platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.

This is where Nudge comes in — the extension does not block sites but rather aims to remove addictive components and clutter in order to reduce distractions, the time spent on social media, and to improve productivity.

“You’ll still use addictive sites, but now hopefully a little bit less, and in the way that you choose — not the way that the sites choose,” Nudge states.

A tool stemming from this extension, Unfollow Everything, allowed users to effectively wipe out their entire Facebook News Feed by automatically unfollowing friends, groups, and pages.

This did not delete friends or sever contacts; instead, the tool unhooked users from what Barclay calls “the central hub of Facebook” — without touching other features, such as messaging.

Unfollow Everything was published to the Chrome Store in Jul. 2021 and quickly earned the attention of Facebook users. Barclay says that the free, automated tool was used by “thousands” of consumers to remove their news feeds, and a few months afterward, University of Neuchâtel researchers launched a study to examine potential links between time spent on the Facebook news feed and self-reported happiness levels.

“The News Feed is the thing that keeps people glued to the platform for hours on end, often on a daily basis; without it, time spent on the network would drop considerably,” the developer says.

However, the extension did not go unnoticed by the social media giant. After all, removing the feed also impacted the revenue Facebook is able to generate from users by showing them advertisements.

In an editorial published on Slate, Barclay says that several months ago, Facebook sent the developer a cease-and-desist letter, threatening legal action and demanding that he never again create tools that “interact with Facebook or its other services.”

Among the claims made were that he had broken Facebook’s Terms of Service by “interfering with or impeding the intended operation” of the platform.

In addition, Barclay found that his Facebook and Instagram accounts had been permanently disabled.

While the developer says these demands were “outrageous” in his eyes, rather than facing a potentially ruinous lawsuit and costs if he challenged the firm, Barclay chose to delete Unfollow Everything.

This means that users can no longer access the tool and the University of Neuchâtel, too, is now unable to continue with its study.

“I am far from the only one to face this kind of scenario. Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer,” Barclay says. “We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them.”

“I’m still searching for other ways to help people use Facebook less,” the developer added. “But in the meantime, at least I can thank it for something: My own Facebook addiction is now definitively under control.”

A Facebook spokesperson told Cybersecurity Ventures that the term of service broken by Unfollow Everything was the agreement not to access and alter accounts through automated means — a system that the company believes “could pose risks if abused.”

“We built our own ‘unfollow’ tool so people can decide to unfollow or re-follow whomever they want, whenever they want,” the spokesperson said. “Despite its similar name, this extension accessed and altered people’s accounts through automated means, which could pose risks if abused. That’s the violation of our terms of service in question, not ‘unfollowing’ people or reducing the time people spend using our products, which people can also manage with our built-in tools.”

In other Facebook news, the social media giant has recently come under fire by U.S. regulators for allegedly putting profit ahead of the online safety of its users and, especially, its younger user base.

The Wall Street Journal published an investigation into the company, dubbed The Facebook Files, which were based on internal documents leaked to the news outlet. Among the claims made are that profit and growth rank higher than safety and privacy, and in particular, “flaws” in Facebook and Instagram are being ignored — to the detriment of the mental health of users including teenage girls.

In September, during a Senate hearing chaired by Richard Blumenthal, the U.S. senator accused Facebook of being “incapable of holding itself accountable.” In response, Antigone Davis, global head of safety at Facebook, said the firm is “proactively identifying where it can improve” on a continual basis.

On Oct. 5, the whistleblower who provided material to the WSJ appeared before U.S. Congress. In a Senate hearing, Frances Haugen — a former Facebook product manager — said that the company is “morally bankrupt” and argued that Facebook required more regulatory oversight to enforce positive change.

Charlie Osborne is a journalist covering security for ZDNet. Her work also appears on TechRepublic, Cybercrime Magazine, and other media outlets. 

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