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Facebook bans developer of timeline-cleaning browser extension

The developer of a browser extension that lets Facebook users block some types of content from their newsfeeds called Fluff-Busting Purity says the social network's legal department has banned him from the site, accusing him of violating the terms of service.

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Essentially, FB Purity is a piece of code that works with the browser to alter the way Facebook is displayed on a user's machine, particularly as a way to block out endless streams of "x read an article about y" notifications. It's available for Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. Steve Fernandez, a UK-based web developer, made FB Purity available online in early 2009, free of charge. (He does accept donations.)

"I started using Facebook early 2008, and found that there were a lot of annoying features that I didn't like about the site, so as a web developer by trade, decided to fix them via the magic of a Greasemonkey User Script, which is basically a small program that you load in your browser that alters the way specific web pages look or behave," he explained to Network World in an email.

The fact that Fernandez's extension doesn't use Facebook's official API means this isn't his first clash with the site's administrators. He was banned in February, though he regained access to his account two weeks later. In April, Facebook began to block links to his website, calling it "spammy or abusive."

An email to the website's legal team was not immediately returned.

"I feel they are making a big mistake by banning me from the site, as many of the FBP extension's thousands of users have told me that the only reason they still even bother using Facebook any more is because of my extension," he says.

Fernandez asserts that FB Purity doesn't directly access any Facebook services - it simply modifies the browser used to do so. Since, he says, browsers don't need a special license or API to access Facebook, the violation doesn't make sense.

While Fernandez doesn't have precise figures for the size of FB Purity's user base, he estimates it at 85,000, based on official download numbers from the Chrome, Opera and Firefox official sites. The actual number, however, may be higher, since this doesn't account for add-on and script downloads from his own site. (Fernandez doesn't count these, he says.)

After repeated run-ins with Facebook, it seems to have gotten a bit personal for the FB Purity developer. The news section of his site frequently takes the social network to task over privacy issues and a lack of user choice, which he says his extension is designed to address.

"The original reason I developed the extension in the first place was to make it easier and less annoying to use Facebook for myself, the fact other people liked it too was just a bonus," he says. "They need to accept that users are going to use browser extensions on their site, and there's not much they can really do about it."

Email Jon Gold at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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