- Social Fixer Does Not Insert Ad-Ware, Track You, Or Spy On You… And Never Will. Integrity Matters.
- 7 New Year’s Resolutions I Wish Facebook Would Make
- Social Fixer 9.0 Resolves News Feed Problems And More
- Social Fixer Is Partly Broken. Here’s Why…
- Facebook Doesn’t Want You To Know Who Unfriends You! Do You?
Category Archives: Featured
Recent reports have created buzz about browser extensions and the fact that they may be spying on you or inserting ads. I would like to be very clear: Social Fixer is completely safe and will never insert ads, track you, or spy on you. Ever.
In posts by Ars Technica (who previously wrote an article about me), How-To Geek, and Lifehacker, the sites explain how browser extensions can have code in them that may insert advertising, track you on the web, spy on your form submissions, or do other things you aren’t aware of.
What makes this especially scary is that most extensions update automatically. So an extension that is safe today may not be safe tomorrow, and the new code will be added to your computer without you being asked.
Here’s the real risk: Extension authors are increasingly being approached by others to sell their extensions and transfer ownership. Once these new people own the extension, they add in the malicious code and post an update, which gets pushed to all users’ computers automatically. They have instantly gained thousands of victims, who have no idea that anything has changed. Anti-virus and anti-spyware apps won’t detect it. Users may see the effects but have no idea what caused it. Or even worse, they may have their privacy breached and have no clue at all.
This is a serious issue, so I want to be very clear:
This Issue Is Old News To Me
- In 2011 I was asked to sell another single-purpose Facebook extension I threw together in a few hours. I wrote about it on Google Groups. I could tell it was suspicious, so I exposed it and turned down $700 in easy cash.
- I’ve been approach numerous times by people who want to monetize Social Fixer by inserting ads or user tracking. I always say no. I have written about this in a blog post: Why I Do Not Monetize Social Fixer or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Donation
- I am no fool about the potential value of my user base. With over a million users - all active users of Facebook – my extension is exactly what the trackers and adware peddlers want. And they would probably be willing to pay good money for it.
I could “cash out” and make some sweet cash. But…
I am an honest person, and my most valuable resource is my integrity. If I do eventually stop working on Social Fixer, I will want all my users to follow me to my next project, whatever it is.
I want to have a positive influence on others, and on the web.
I want to do what is right by users, and be respected for what I offer to the world.
I want people to value it so much that they reward me for my work by choice, and spread it to others because it is so valuable to them, not because my app spammed their wall on their behalf or tricked them with adware.
I’ve been on the internet for a long time, and you can probably look up much of what I’ve done. My reputation is solid, and I hope that I’ve never made decisions that harm others for my own personal gain. I think that so many people trust Social Fixer because of my character and history of being someone you can fully trust. That matters a lot to me.
It’s not always easy to take the high road. I’d love to get a big cash payout, pay off my house and cars, take my family to Disney World, and take a few years off work! I work really hard so some of those things can happen. But I will never do wrong by others or take advantage of them to get there.
So here’s my suggestion to everyone out there who uses browser extensions, or any other software, or who consumes and appreciates the content created by others:
Reward The Content Creators
Be willing to financially support the people who create the software you use, not because you have to but because it’s valuable to you. Make it financially rewarding to respect your privacy and security. Give them the incentive to decline the fast buck and do what is best for users.
I take donations to support Social Fixer. [Here’s the link to donate]. Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but honestly, only about 1-2% of users ever donate anyway. But the truth is, it takes many hours of work to create an extension like this. Once the fun creative part is done, it’s countless hours of debugging, support, testing, writing documentation, etc. It’s like a job, and a lot of the time it’s really not “fun” work at all. It’s exhausting.
I do it because I enjoy writing cool software that is helpful to a lot of people. But honestly, if the donations were to dry up completely, I would probably stop working on it. The only way I can justify spending many hours a week away from my family or sacrificing sleep is if it helps pay for a family vacation or to cover some car repairs. I am not a robot.
Support the people who create the things you love (whether it be software, art, music, writing, or any other creative venture). Otherwise, you may one day find that you’ve paid for it in a different way – through your privacy, security, or personal data.
As a general recommendation, be very cautious about any browser extensions you install. Not every developer has good intentions. Read the reviews, check on the person or company who is distributing it, and see what else they have done. If it seems suspicious, err on the side of caution and don’t install it.
It is your responsibility as a user to be your own advocate for safety and privacy.
As a developer and creator, it is my responsibility to always treat you with respect and never take advantage of the trust you place in the code that I write. I promise to never break that trust!
(Full Disclosure: Social Fixer does send minimal data back to my server, but it’s only the type and version of the extension you are using, so I can keep track of how many different versions are out in the wild. I have often considered tracking additional information solely for the purpose of making the extension better for users by identifying which new Facebook features are seen by how many people and what form they take. So far, I have not implemented anything like this, and if I ever do, it will always be opt-in, never opt-out. And it would only be done because it would help make the app better for users.)
Dear Facebook: You’ll probably be drunk at midnight when 2014 rolls in, but we need to talk. You need to do some self-improvement, because you’ve become really annoying lately. So much so that I barely want to hang out with you anymore. Here are 7 New Year’s Resolutions I wish you would make…
#1: Value Your Users More Than Your Advertisers
You’re an advertising company, and you have acquired more personal information about us than any other company in history. We’ve handed you everything you need to know in order to serve us ads that we might be lured into clicking. But Facebook, you’ve become very short-sighted. You’re focusing on pleasing the advertisers, rather than the users.
Yes, we are the product being sold. But unless you keep users happy, you will soon have no one left to advertise to. Users don’t pay you the money, but they are your customers too. Zuckerberg should ponder these quotes from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon:
“You want your customers to value your service.”
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It's our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
“We've had three big ideas at Amazon that we've stuck with for 18 years, and they're the reason we're successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”
#2: Give Users The News Feed We Want
I know you say that your complex news feed algorithms are an attempt to give us the most interesting and relevant stories out of thousands. But we’re not stupid. We know you’re just manipulating the content in order to charge Pages and advertisers for their posts to actually be visible to users. And let’s face it – your algorithms are terrible. Everyone I talk to is becoming disenchanted with their news feed.
Most users just want an unfiltered, chronological news feed of things their Friends and Pages post. You know, like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and every blog on the planet. Stop trying to tell us what we should want to see, and let us decide instead. If we see too many political rants by Uncle Bob, we’ll hide him. Assuming you don’t take away that feature.
#3: Stop Tinkering – If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It
Features pop in and out at random as you test new code, layout changes, design tweaks, and functionality “enhancements”. When my wife calls me to ask why she is seeing these annoying “Most Popular Posts from 2012” at the top of her news feed, I load up mine and I don’t even see the same thing. Nobody knows what they are going to get anymore or how it works.
Facebook has become like driving a car whose instruments are in different places every time you get in, or randomly disappear entirely. We like continual improvement, but not constant random tinkering. We don’t have time to re-learn how to use Facebook every 2 weeks. It’s really annoying.
#4: Stop Promising Features You Never Deliver
Remember the awesome new News Feed design that you announced 9 months ago? Remember the press conference, blog coverage, and slick videos telling us how amazing it will be? Remember how users waited and waited to get moved to the new redesign? Remember how you never actually rolled it out, and in fact scrapped the whole thing because you discovered that users didn’t actually like it? Seriously. You need to stop doing that.
#5: Make Privacy The Default
You want users to share more and tag more and like more and comment more, because it lets you harvest more data. But privacy matters, and by default Facebook should be private. With each update to the privacy settings, you make it more complicated and more difficult to communicate only with those people you wish to.
Instead of gathering better personal data by reducing default privacy, you are making people afraid to say anything of substance because they are never sure who will see it. When I see a friends’ comment on a Page I’ve never heard of, on a topic that might embarrass them, and it’s shown up front and center in my news feed, something is wrong. Living in the spotlight is fun for a while, and then people get sick of it and leave. You need to make users feel comfortable that their every move and click is not being broadcast to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers, otherwise they won’t want to use your site anymore.
#6: Add A Few Simple, Reasonable Features
I had such high hopes for Facebook a couple years ago. I thought it would morph into the social site that would bring many of my interactions under one umbrella, and streamline my life so much. Instead, it’s kind of just gotten in the way, which is why I - like many others, it seems - are slowly moving away from it. In all your endless tinkering and billions spent, you still haven’t managed to add a few key features that I feel should be near the top of the list:
- Let me mark posts as “read” so I don’t see them again. Like my email Inbox, I don’t want to see old messages every time I start up Facebook. I’ve already read them, so let me tuck them away so they don’t show up when I load up Facebook on my phone later! And no, I can’t just “Hide” them, because I’m afraid I’m feeding your broken algorithm, and you’ll start showing me fewer posts like the one I’m hiding.
- Let me turn off comments and likes on posts. Sometimes I just don’t want any engagement. Or I want to put an end to a comment thread that has gone off-topic.
- Let me turn off notifications when non-friends “Like” my comment on a public Page or Group. I really don’t care, and it’s filling up my notifications list.
- Let me filter my news feed by keyword or author. I never, ever, ever want to see cosplay. Ever.
- Let me enable photo tag approval, but whitelist my wife. I trust her. It’s okay.
- Make your calendar usable. Imagine how great it would be if I could quickly ask 10 friends which dates works best for a party, and give them 4 options to vote on. Imagine if I could integrate my Facebook calendar with my Google calendar!
- Stop sending Messages to my Other folder! And stop doing it for others! This is the lamest attempt at Inbox control I’ve ever seen.
- Let me do basic mail message filtering based on keyword. Much better.
- Oh, I can give you more. Call me.
#7: Take A Few Hints From Social Fixer
Social Fixer is a browser extension that tries to fix a bunch of your user interface failures and add new features that are actually useful. Of course, this is the blog of the extension’s site, so this is kind of blatant self-promotion, isn’t it?
Well, only kind of. There are over a 1.5 Million people who use Social Fixer (growing every day), so clearly there is demand for its functionality. A tabbed news feed, post filtering, marking posts as read, making the news feed stay on Most Recent, show full time stamps, etc. And that’s not even including the features you demanded be removed, like the Friend Tracker that notified users when they were unfriended.
You’ve already taken a number of features from the extension and put them into the site. That’s cool. But wouldn’t it be better to work with someone who is clearly in tune with what many users want, rather than work against him?
“Social Fixer and Facebook, they’re both so intense… put ‘em together, it just makes sense!” -- Olaf, 2013
[Bonus #8: Make That Matt Kruse Guy A Millionaire]
Okay, this one is a little selfish. If you can offer Snapchat $3 Billion, couldn’t you pass along a little cash to the guy who works hard to keep your site usable? Yes, generous users send me donations to support the project, but they cover the bills and go to my family vacation fund. It’s not like I’m getting rich from my work.
I’m available for consulting. Our you can just buy me out and hire me to fix the site from the inside. Your choice.
Good Luck In 2014, Facebook!
I hope you make some changes to improve yourself. I think you’ll find that people will like you more, and that’s not such a bad thing, is it? Happy New Year, Facebook!
-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer
Version 9.0 of Social Fixer resolves many of the problems caused by Facebook’s recent changes to their news feed and other features, as described in a recent blog post. It also adds a few useful new features. Be sure to install the latest version to take advantage of the fixes!
Install the 9.0 update by going to SocialFixer.com
- Recent Facebook code changes caused many key Social Fixer features to stop working for some users – mark posts as read, filtering, tabbing, etc. This version should resolve those problems for most users.
- Filtering now works for text in the “tag line” like "X commented on this"
- Comment counts were not being correctly calculated when "view X more comments" links existed
- The wrench menu has been rearranged and divided into sections to make it clearer
- New feature: Show “Hidden” Sections under the wrench menu shows parts of the screen that have been hidden by Social Fixer options.
- A link to the blog has been added under the wrench menu. When a new blog post is detected, a link directly to it will be inserted, along with its title. A “1” indicator will be shown on the wrench menu when there is a new unseen blog post. An option in the “Advanced” tab has been added to disable this feature entirely (please don’t!)
- The functionality to auto-click older posts has been broken by Facebook and may not be fixable. I cannot figure out a way into their code. Yet.
- Posts will be auto-loaded as you scroll down, as it is by default on Facebook. However, Social Fixer stops the auto-loading after 5 page loads, to prevent their code from going into an eternal loop and loading hundreds of pages worth of posts. This is a necessary trade-off, and to continue loading more you can just click ‘More Stories’.
- For some reason, Facebook removes posts from the feed when it detects that you are not looking at them. For example, if you’ve loaded 100 posts but are at the top of your news feed, Facebook will silently remove 50 posts from the end of the feed. I don’t know why they do this, but it causes problems with Social Fixer because posts are not in the places they think they are (due to filtering and tabbing). So I have prevented this functionality to the best of my ability. But if you see posts randomly disappearing in front of your eyes, it means I have some more work to do.
Questions? Problems? Need Support?
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I hope you have a Happy New Year!
Donate to support development.
Some features of Social Fixer are not working correctly for many users – marking posts as read, auto-clicking for more stories, and some filtering functionality. I am very frustrated by this and I am trying hard to fix it. Here’s an explanation of why it is how it is and where it stands now…
Current State – Beta Version Is Better, But Not Perfect
I have released a beta test build on the Social Fixer Development page which fixes many problems users are having, but not all. The reason I have not released this update yet is mainly because one issue is still not fixed – loading of More Stories.
When you hide posts in the news feed through filters or by marking them as read, the news feed is empty. This confuses Facebook’s code, and it thinks you have scrolled to the bottom of the feed because the “More Stories” footer is visible. So it tries to load more, and gets into an infinite loop, loading hundreds of stories and causing the page to slow to a crawl. It becomes unusable. As long as Social Fixer provides the potential to empty out the news feed, this problem exists. The methods I used before to account for this no longer work, as they have completely new code to control it, which I have not yet been able to hook into.
When this issue is resolved, I will release an official update that fixes many, but not all, of the known issues. So… what caused the issues to begin with?
Why Is It Broken?
Facebook’s Internal Code Structure Is Constantly Mutating
Social Fixer works by inspecting the underlying HTML code structure of the web page, processing it, and manipulating it. When they change their internal structure, Social Fixer no longer knows how to take it apart and change it, so it stops working. Lately, Facebook has been changing their internal code structure a lot, and I can’t keep up (these changes are not visible on the screen, just in the code). Sometimes the entire code structure changes after a simple page reload. Crazy. This is why filters are not able to properly process things like “commented on”, etc at the moment – because they are contained in a structure that Social Fixer can’t recognize with its current code.
Facebook’s Code Is A Mess
Code And Features Are Inconsistent Between Users
Facebook is constantly testing features and code changes, so not every user even sees the same things. The underlying code for one user may be very different for someone else, so a feature that works for me may not work for you. I do not have access to see every version of code sent to every user for every feature. So I work with what I can see, and hope it works for everyone else, too. Unfortunately, the disparity between code sent to different users is growing.
Facebook Is Making Its Code Harder (or Impossible) To Manipulate
As crazy as their code is, I used to be able to access it and manipulate it once I figured out what it was doing. Not so much anymore. They are coding using new patterns that prevent external apps like Social Fixer from touching some of the internal functionality. It’s hidden from me and inaccessible. So in some cases, I simply cannot do some of the things I did before. Variables and state are hidden inside private variables contained within closures, and I can’t access to them. They are doing a good job of locking me out, which I assume is part of their intent.
I’m Busy And A Bit Overwhelmed
I’m human, and I have lots of things going on. It is the holiday season and I have a family and a regular full-time job that is increasingly stressful. I have not been able to find as much time to work on this as usual. And since it’s increasingly daunting and headache-inducing, sometimes I just can’t make any progress after I sit down at 11pm to try to fix broken features. Honestly, I’m really tired, and pretty overwhelmed. But that will pass.
It’s Christmas! About Donations…
This time of year, donations usually slow to a trickle, and that’s fine – people are buying gifts for family and friends, or donating to worthy causes. That’s great! I hope that if you have to choose between donating to this software project or buying a child a gift from the Angel Tree, you would choose the latter.
But I have received a few mails from people asking how to donate because they wanted to spread some “Christmas Cheer” to me. I always appreciate that, and if your generosity this time of year has any room for a random guy on the internet, you can go over to the donation page to send me some Christmas Cheer. Thanks
Stay Tuned! It Will Get Fixed!
I may not be able to fix everything perfectly, but I will maintain my focus on empowering Facebook users to make the most efficient use of the site possible. I hope you’ll stick with me even through the times where things are broken. My hope is that I always add enough value that the good parts over-shadow the broken parts!
-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer
Facebook thinks that being unfriended is a "negative experience" for users, and they only want to allow positive experiences (ex: no "dislike" button). It's fine that they don't offer this feature, but I don’t think it’s right of them to shut down every 3rd party app that does, nor do I think it’s in their own best interest.
Why Does Anyone Need To Know Who Unfriends Them?
- Sometimes it’s an accident, and they want to ask the person if they meant to unfriend them
- Sometimes Facebook has glitches, and people get unfriended unintentionally
- Sometimes friends are struggling with life, and them deactivating their account may be a sign that they need help
- Sometimes people play online games and they keep friends as part of their game groups, so like to know if someone has left their group by unfriending them
- Sometimes people just like to know why Friend X is no longer appearing in their news feed!
None of these reasons seems particularly bad or negative, do they? It seems unreasonable for Facebook to assume it knows better than users what they want. Especially when this functionality is only available to people who specifically seek it out and install an app to inform them. It’s not like random users would be shocked and surprised to suddenly find out that someone unfriended them.
Facebook Shuts Down Unfriending Apps
Facebook has a history of trying to shut down any application that offers users the ability to know who unfriends them. For example, http://unfriendfinder.net/ was a popular tool that had to shut down. And recently, they told me that Social Fixer could no longer offer this feature. For now, the site at http://who.deleted.me still works, but trying to share it on Facebook fails because they’ve marked it as malicious.
What grounds do they have to demand that these apps shut down? It’s not a legal matter – offering these features is not breaking any kind of law. Instead, they say that developers are breaking their Terms of Service. Specifically, section 1.3 of the Platform Policy, which states:
“You must not circumvent (or claim to circumvent) our intended limitations on core Facebook features and functionality.”
Since Facebook specifically doesn’t offer this feature, neither can anyone else. If you break their ToS, then you may not get a lawsuit, but you might get:
- Your personal account removed from Facebook
- Your permission to access Facebook at all revoked
- Any Page, Group, etc that you’ve setup to promote your app may be removed
- Your web site may be marked as malicious, so anyone trying to post a link to your tool will not be able to do so on Facebook
So, while we may not be doing anything illegal, we may effectively be shut out from Facebook, the very site we are trying to improve. And we won’t be able to spread the word about our app on Facebook, the very place it is intended to be used. For most developers (myself included) it’s just not worth it. Facebook “wins” and gets to dictate what users get to see and know. I don’t personally want to risk giving up all access to Facebook just to retain a useful feature. That would kind of defeat the purpose.
Facebook Principle: Give Users Choice And Control?
One of Facebook’s supposed Principles in the Platform Policy is to “Create a great user experience” and to “Give users choice and control”.
I believe that if Facebook genuinely wants to give users choice and control, and give them a great user experience, they should allow developers to create tools that extend and enhance that experience. They should not try to shut down apps and tools that give users the information that they want and find valuable. Especially when it comes to information like who has unfriended you – something that you can already figure out on your own but with a lot of extra effort.
Facebook should embrace the developer community and support its desire to improve and extend the functionality they offer. That would be truly giving users choice and control, and help make the world more open and connected.
Voice Your Opinion!
Facebook is notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to contact, but if you agree here’s what you can do:
- and this post
- Post this to places like Reddit, Slashdot, or wherever else people might be interested
- Find an appropriate email address for Facebook to contact and let them know you disagree with how they handle this. (So far, I haven’t found one)
Who knows, maybe a little attention to this issue may cause Facebook to reconsider its stance.
If you’re curious, here is the history of my dealings with Facebook about Social Fixer offering its Friend Tracker functionality (and more):
- Facebook Removes Social Fixer Page Without Warning
- Beware: Your Business Is At The Mercy Of Facebook! Social Fixer Page Deleted Without Explanation…
- Social Fixer Page Removed: Follow-up And Responses To Questions And Comments
- Facebook Requires Social Fixer Browser Extension To Remove Key Features
- Facebook Compromises: Social Fixer Can Keep Feed Filtering
On a personal note, I’ve actually received many private Messages and public comments from users who are very angry about this, and taking it out on me. I’ve been called every name in the book, and been repeatedly personally insulted. Clearly, people really feel strongly about this. But I hope that frustration would be directed at Facebook, and not at me. Posts like this are my attempt to continue being a User Advocate, and to at least give a voice for our opinions.
I’ve written about how Facebook removed my Page, then how they requested I remove key features from Social Fixer. But I kept pleading my case on behalf of the users, and I’m happy to report that we’ve reached a compromise.
The post tabbing and filtering functionality can stay in Social Fixer. This was the critical feature that allowed so many users to control their feed and enjoy using Facebook more. I argued this in emails and phone calls to Facebook, and they finally agreed to defer that discussion to later. For the foreseeable future, those features can stay. As a compromise, I agreed to remove the Friend Tracker and any specific features which filter out ads or paid posts.
For years, I avoided putting any kind of ad-blocking functionality into Social Fixer, because I didn’t want to be seen as a tool that negatively affects their revenue. I eventually added a few features, specifically ones to filter out ads in the news feed itself. But I will remove those features now. If you want to filter out advertising, the best way is still by using AdBlock Plus, another free browser extension. And for now, the app at http://who.deleted.me will work as a “Friend Tracker” – at least until Facebook shuts it down again.
I will be making the code modifications soon and pushing out an update release. Thank you for your patience as I work through this, and your support in the form of comments, shares, blog posts, tweets, etc. I have to think that those things are part of what influenced Facebook’s decision. That’s awesome.
Update Oct 15: Slashdot did a video interview of me before Facebook agreed to this compromise, but if you want to hear me talk about my thoughts on what’s been going on and verify that I am a real person with a real voice, check it out.
Questions? Comments? Comment on this post on Facebook to join the discussion!
Can I Keep The Old Version?
If you really want to keep Friend Tracker, you can not update Social Fixer. But I don’t recommend this, because I constantly update it to adjust for Facebook’s code changes. You would miss out on that, and eventually Social Fixer would not work well.
Why Did You Decide To Compromise?!
I believe in compromise and respect. My application is a tool that works on top of their great site, and it’s in my best interest to maintain a good working relationship with them. I can understand their desire not to have ad blocking, at least, and that is something that users can still accomplish with other tools. I saw the feed filtering and tabbing as key features that I needed to fight for, but the Friend Tracker was something I didn’t see as that critical. If I can cater to some of their needs, and they can compromise with me, and I can get my Page back up, then I think that is a positive way to move forward.
When Will The New Version Be Out?
Hopefully in the next week. (Before Oct 18).
Will You Fix Other Bugs Too?
Yes! I’ll include some fixes for common problems users are having now, like some posts not appearing in Groups, for example. As always, check the release notes for a quick summary of what is changed.
Why Does Facebook Have An Issue With Friend Tracker?
I don't know, really. I guess for the same reason they will never add a Dislike button. They only want positive interaction, and seeing someone unfriend you is a negative thing. They have consistently fought every single app that informs you when someone unfriends you, as far as I know (like Unfriend Finder). For whatever reason, they just don't want you to know that information. It might make you sad to know you lost a friend. Or something.
This Isn’t Worth It Just To Keep Your Facebook Page!
If you think that's all that this is about, you haven't read all the details, but here are some of the things I am considering:
- I do want my Page back. I need an "audience" to expand this app and open new doors for me. Part of why Facebook didn't just blindly shut me down was (I think) because I am able to reach hundreds of thousands of passionate users pretty quickly. Having a wide audience means more stability, and less chance that Facebook will mess with Social Fixer. And I also like being able to reach users in an official way.
- Having the Page makes it easier to share blog posts about topics and/or release notes about new versions, and this makes it much easier for people to SHARE those posts, expanding my audience even wider.
- I do not want to have Facebook mark SocialFixer.com as spam, causing any link to it on their site to not render, and warn the user. This would kill the trust of new users. This would be very bad.
- I do not want to lose my personal account. I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends and to learn. I also use it to work on Social Fixer. If I tell Facebook that I will not cooperate with them, they could shut down my personal account. I don't want that.
- Of course, there are subtle legal threats in the background. I don't want a legal case, in any form. That's scary. I have a wife and family to protect as my first priority.
You Should Allow “Plugins” To Social Fixer To Extend The Functionality
That would be great, and it continues to be something I consider. I've actually done this before! It worked, and was cool. Unfortunately, it got rejected by every site that hosts extensions. When they do security and privacy checks, they ensure that no additional code can be executed than what is in the extension now. This concept would break that rule. So I would no longer be able to host Social Fixer on the major sites, thereby reducing my credibility, raising security and privacy concerns in users, etc. Right now, it's not worth it. Yet.
You Should Open Source The Code!
This is much more complicated than it seems, and I've addressed it a number of times. The short summary is this - open sourcing it may introduce security and privacy concerns, and in the end it still needs to be distributed from a single source (me), which doesn't help me avoid any liability, even if I didn't write all the code. Open Source is not always the answer, nor is it a simple one in this case. Trust me.
Hope that helps!
-- Matt Kruse, Developer of Social Fixer
Several weeks ago, the Social Fixer Page was removed from Facebook without warning (see my blog post). Since then, I’ve talked Facebook’s Policy Management Team about the situation and what it would take to get it back, and it’s not what I wanted to hear. Here are the details.
First of all, I feel very fortunate to have been on contact with real people at Facebook who have treated me with respect and given me more personal time than I expected (on the phone, twice, not just in email). They were friendly and I enjoyed talking with them. Most people with problems like this never get that kind of contact.
Facebook Demands Removal Of Key Social Fixer Features
So I’ll cut to the chase, and summarize the things you want to know. Then I’ll give a few more details:
- The initial report of the Page violating Facebook’s terms came from an individual user manually reporting it. It was not for spam, as was reported to me. Their back-end systems have a limited number of buckets that reports can be categorized into, so “spam” was used. They are working on improving this.
- The Policy Management Team became aware of my blog post about this from a reference by someone internal to Facebook. I assume this bubbled up to someone’s attention because of all the users who contacted them, shared the link, etc. So thank you for that. It seemed to have worked!
- They said the Page existed to promote something that they feel is in violation of their Terms of Service, specifically Section 3.11 of the Rights and Responsibilities:
”You will not do anything that could disable, overburden, or impair the proper working or appearance of Facebook, such as a denial of service attack or interference with page rendering or other Facebook functionality.”
I disagree that this applies to Social Fixer.
- They also said it violates section 1.3 of the Platform Policies:
“You must not circumvent (or claim to circumvent) our intended limitations on core Facebook features and functionality.”
However, since I don’t use their API or developer platform, I do not feel that these apply to me.
- In order to comply with their terms and get the Page re-published, I must remove the following functionality from Social Fixer:
- Friend Tracker
- News Feed Tabs
- News Feed Filters
- Blocking of ads, sponsored stories, etc.
- Once I have done so, the Page can be re-published with all the original content and fans.
Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm
Facebook has a complex algorithm that determines what you see in your news feed, and they want you to see it exactly as they give it to you. They believe that it puts the best stories in users’ news feed. In my personal experience, I find their algorithm to consistently deliver results that are different than what I want, making the site much less usable to me. That’s why I built powerful feed filtering and tabbing functionality into Social Fixer – so users could get back some control of their news feed and view it in a way that is more useful to them.
According to them, anything that moves posts to tabs or hides them based on rules interferes with their ability to track interaction with the feed and deliver “quality results” to the user. In my opinion, this really means that they are less able to control what you see, insert advertising, and manipulate the feed to justify charging for “promoted” posts. The news feed control that Social Fixer enables makes it more usable for users, but marginally less profitable for them.
I talked to them about this, and explained the reasons why I and others value these features so much. Whether it be tabbing game posts, or filtering “Breaking Bad” spoilers to a tab, or hiding all posts with the word “cosplay”, Social Fixer’s feed filters are powerful and extremely helpful. They seemed to acknowledge the usefulness of these features, but still said they cannot be offered.
What If I Don’t Make The Requested Changes?
Of course I asked what would happen if I chose not to make the changes they are requesting. I was told that the case would be sent over the the legal department, where they handle cease and desist letters, etc. And of course, the Social Fixer Page would not be restored, limiting my ability to communicate with users and spread information.
If it just meant losing the Page forever, I would choose to let it stay unpublished and continue to offer users the features they love so much. But here are my concerns:
- Any threat of legal action is a big deal. I am a one-man operation. If I were sued for whatever reason, I would find it very difficult to defend myself, even if it was without merit. I would be risking my personal life to maintain a tabbed news feed for users. As much as I’d like to be your Robin Hood, I just can’t do that to my family.
- Even if no legal action comes as a result, they may still take action against my personal account. They could ban me from Facebook because they feel I violate their Terms, making it harder to keep in touch with family and friends.
- Even if they left my personal account alone, they could still mark socialfixer.com as being a risky and/or spammy site, like they have done for http://FBPurity.com. No one would be able to link to my site on Facebook, share blog posts like this, etc. That would really reduce my ability to spread the app to new users and would discredit the site.
The Problem With Extensions
Facebook explained to me some of their concerns about browser extensions:
- Not all extension authors have good intentions. Some may steal user data, insert malware, etc. They need to watch out for the “bad guys”, and so are very cautious about what extensions do and how.
- When extensions are installed on shared computers, other users may find themselves with an altered Facebook experience and not realize the cause. This may result in support requests or complaints to Facebook.
- Not all extension authors keep their code updated with Facebook’s frequent changes, so the user experience could get worse over time and things may break.
I sympathize with their concerns, but I don’t think that more control is the solution. I believe that if you want to enable people to use things how they choose and optimize their use of your site, you must let go of some of these worries. Yes, users can potentially mess up their own experience. But that is a risk you must accept to maintain their freedom to control their own browser. Freedom is more important than control.
What About AdBlock? Why Not Go After Them?
AdBlock Plus is the biggest Firefox extension available – much more widely used than Social Fixer. It also blocks ads on Facebook and in the news feed. Shouldn’t they be target #1 for Facebook? Apparently not. Their Page is still up, with over 200,000 Likes. Similarly, so is the Page for “FB Purity”, another extension with similar feed filtering capabilities. Shouldn’t their Pages be removed as well?
I asked about both of these cases, as examples, and I was told by the person at Facebook that she was not aware of these apps or Pages, but would check into them.
So What Do I Plan To Do?
For now, my plan is to comply with their requests and remove the features that they object to. The purpose is not just to get the Page back (how this all started) but also to avoid the possible actions above.
As many users have already noted, this makes Social Fixer much less useful. I agree. I will continue working on ways to bring these features back. Many have suggested that I contact the EFF about this, and I plan to do so.
Opinion: The End Of The Power User
Charlie Warzel interviewed me a few weeks ago after the Page removal and wrote a story called “The End Of The Power User” about how tech companies are increasingly shutting out the most experienced and proficient users of their own services. I talked about this a bit with Facebook as well, and wrote a few paragraphs in email with my thoughts on this.
I believe that Facebook and other tech companies should embrace the people who want to use their services to their fullest potential. I created Social Fixer because I want to use Facebook more efficiently! I’m not stealing their content, or trying to get people to switch to Google+, or bad-mouthing every move they make. I’m improving the experience for users.
By taking a stance of embracing the power user community, companies like Facebook could get a reputation of supporting and empowering users. Instead, every user I talk to now seems to think that Facebook is going downhill and increasingly making decisions that benefit their stock holders rather than their users. That’s unfortunate.
The people at Facebook seemed to be understanding of my thoughts on this. I’m sure they’ve heard it before. They also seemed open to the idea of having further discussions on the issues and concerns of external developers.
What Can You Do?
I’m not going to organize a big protest of Facebook or a campaign to make our voices heard. Ain’t nobody got time for that! But if you would like to contact them in an appropriate manner, feel free to do so.
You can share this blog post, to let other people know about these changes and perhaps get some attention to the issue. If enough people question their attempt to control users’ browsers, perhaps they will reconsider. You can also upvote the post on Reddit if you use it.
Finally, you can donate to help the cause. I’ll be honest – donations aren’t going to go towards a legal fund or anything. But they will probably go towards me taking my wife out on a date or taking the kids on a weekend trip so I can get away from all this for a bit, relax, and get some clarity about how to move forward.
Let me know your thoughts – comment on this post on Facebook. Thanks!
I will keep you all updated about any progress I make on this. Be sure to keep an eye on this blog, and Like my temporary Page on Facebook for news: Important News for SFX Users.
Thank you for your continued support while I sort through all these issues. I hope I can get everything settled so I can get back to coding and making Facebook better!
In the days since I wrote about Social Fixer’s Page being suddenly removed by Facebook, the post has been read over 100,000 times and widely shared. I thought it would be good to post a follow-up to address some of the comments and questions that I’ve seen.
I have not heard a single word from Facebook so far. Nor anything from the Internet Offends Me page, who tries to help people who have their Pages or accounts unjustly removed. Apparently, it happens often. I’m working under the assumption that the Page will not be restored.
It’s impossible for me to even read all the comments out there, much less respond to them. Especially when there are literally thousands of them, all over the web – comments on this blog, my two Facebook Posts, Reddit, Slashdot, Hacker News, betanews, Fark, Ars Technica, Graham Cluley, Twitter, and more.
But here’s my stab at addressing some of the more common responses I’ve seen:
“Facebook doesn’t owe you anything! They can do what they want! They have no obligation to keep your Page around.”
I agree, they can do what they want, and they did. They didn’t break any laws, and I’m not at all saying that they had no right to remove my Page or do whatever else that want to do. But I can also do what I want, and remind people of how fragile their audience is when place any trust in the stability of Facebook. And I can raise awareness of their action, in the hope that they correct the mistake and re-publish the Page.
“Of course they removed your Page, you violate their Terms of Service!”
No I did not. First of all, keep in mind that Social Fixer is not an official Facebook App. I don’t use their API, and I am not registered with them as a developer. I am not bound by any TOS that governs official API developers. I do this on purpose, for this reason.
Second, the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities on Facebook’s site doesn’t talk directly about anything that Social Fixer does. People often point to this item, 3.11:
11. You will not do anything that could disable, overburden, or impair the proper working or appearance of Facebook, such as a denial of service attack or interference with page rendering or other Facebook functionality.
This item is clearly targeted at malware, spyware, etc. It is meant to say that you cannot do anything that will make Facebook work or appear incorrectly to OTHERS.
If you really want to broaden this item to mean that you can’t do anything that interferes with the “appearance” of Facebook to YOURSELF, then you can’t change your font size, you can’t use custom user styles to make it more readable, you can’t enlarge the screen, you can’t change fonts, etc. That’s absurd. It’s your browser, and you have every right to tweak how their site appears to YOU. It’s not even reasonable at all to expect that Facebook can control exactly how users display their site, otherwise they could dictate which browser you use, what screen size you use, fonts, etc.
As a user, you have the right to tweak how web sites are displayed in your own browser. Social Fixer runs in your own browser, and tweaks the display on your behalf, because you asked it to. This does not violate any Terms of Service.
“It’s stupid to put all your eggs in one basket. Never build a business that has such a critical dependence on another business or site!”
Well, first of all, Social Fixer depends on Facebook. That’s the whole point. If Facebook were to disappear tomorrow, my app would be useless. But I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I’m okay with that risk.
Second, I didn’t have a critical dependence on the Facebook Page. It was my means of communication to users. Social Fixer continues to work correctly without it, so nothing is broken. The only thing that was “broken” because they removed the Page is that I couldn’t send out messages to users as easily about new releases, bugs, etc.
I actually have a feature built into Social Fixer that checks my server for important messages, and displays them right on the screen of users. I used this feature after the Page was removed, to give people information about it. So I actually do have a backup mechanism, but it’s just not as convenient or friendly to users, so I prefer not to use it unless really necessary.
“Of course they removed your Page, it supports an application that does things they don’t want to be done!”
This may be true, but isn’t it a scary thing? So now Facebook doesn’t have consistent rules, but instead can make arbitrary decisions about what they like and what they don’t? Maybe if you put up a Page about Google+, they’ll take it down because it’s a competitor? Or if you put up a Page about a political party they disagree with or an anti-immigration Page, they can take it down because they don’t like it?
I mean, realistically, yes. They can. But this would not be a good model for them to work under, because people would realize it and call them on it. It’s in Facebook’s own best interest to be fair and unbiased. So, just because they don’t particularly like an application that tweaks their site shouldn’t be an acceptable reason to remove it.
And as this article clearly shows, Facebook can’t even decide what it finds objectionable. You can’t have a Page about a browser extension or breastfeeding, but you can have pro-rape groups and racist pages? Fantastic.
“Of course they removed your Page, it lets people block ads!”
- If that’s the case, then the AdBlock Plus Page should surely be removed, right? It’s still there.
- Social Fixer doesn’t block ads by default
- In fact, there isn’t a specific feature to block ads in the right column. It’s just a box that can be hidden, like any other box. I don’t specifically target their revenue. I just let people hide anything they don’t want to see, and Ads happen to be one of those things.
“Why don’t you setup a community on Google+?”
Most Facebook users don’t have Google+ accounts, nor do they like it. I don’t even like it. It doesn’t make sense to use another social network to communicate with users, all of whom are on Facebook to begin with (otherwise they wouldn’t be using Social Fixer!)
“Was Facebook mad at you because they offered you a job and you turned them down?”
No. There were some factual errors in a few posts about this. Facebook never offered me a job. They found me and asked me to go through the interview process. I accepted, and after the initial technical challenge and a few phone interviews, they declined to go forward, citing that I was not a “cultural fit”. But the truth is, had I received an offer, I would have turned them down.
I hope that clears up any of the confusion, or clarifies my view on this. As always, thanks for your support and for helping me raise awareness of this. I appreciate it!
-- Matt Kruse, developer of Social Fixer
I’ve spent 4 years and countless hours building up a community around my software: my Page had 338,050 Likes, my Support Group had 13,360 members, and my Interest List had 1.47 Million followers. But all of that work was wiped out in an instant when Facebook decided to shut it down without notice.
(See below for details about how to give your feedback to Facebook about this decision)
Update 9/19: I have posted a response to many questions and comments I have received since originally posting this. Please click and check it out.
My software is a free browser extension that fixes and enhances the Facebook user interface, called Social Fixer. It is widely popular and used by over a million people. Since my application is tightly integrated with Facebook, it’s only logical that I would use the site to build my community of users, provide support, and make important announcements. I am trying to make their site better, after all.
I Have Never Posted Spam!
I’ve been diligent about always treating my followers with respect – never posting spam, avoiding any kind of engagement manipulation, and refusing to succumb to the tricks other Pages use to game the news feed. So it was quite a surprise when I logged in on September 2nd, 2013 and found that my Page had been “unpublished” and the reason cited was Spam. I’ve never posted spam! Nothing even close to it!
I had but one single action I could take – click the “Appeal” button. There was no room to write an explanation, plead my case, or ask why they had effectively shut me down. So I clicked, wondering how many hours it would take to resolve this.
UPDATE - SEP 11: FB has completely removed my Page!
It’s gone. Years of work and almost 340,000 fans, wiped out. Erased.
I have never been given any details about what “community standards” I was apparently violating (because I wasn’t). This is a case of Facebook choosing to shut down someone’s business just because they want to, not because they were doing anything wrong. This is extremely frustrating and disappointing to me, and should be to others as well.
Not only did they remove the page, but they also blocked my personal account from posting anything for 12 hours (I can’t even Like anything). They also did the same for anyone who was an Administrator or Moderator of the Page – including my wife’s personal account! Members of the support team, who generously volunteer their time to help users, have been shut out as well. They did one big sweep, I guess.
Be Warned: You Are At The Mercy Of Facebook
So let this be a word of caution to other businesses, brands, and individuals who are increasingly relying on Facebook to communicate with their audience, gather feedback, and provide support: You are at their mercy. The entire community you’ve worked so hard building up, spent so much money developing, could be gone in an instant on the whim of some person at Facebook or some automated reporting algorithm. Your complaints may be ignored, and your one-click “appeal” may not even be considered. Your community can be erased without a single explanation.
It seems to me that relying on Facebook is risky at best, when they can remove everything without notice, without cause, and without the means to give meaningful feedback. Is it smart to base your business on a platform as shaky and unpredictable as this? There have been countless other examples of accounts being taken down or limited, often in error. Beware. Your community may be more fragile than you think.
What Exactly Prompted This? I Have No Idea.
Since my incident came without any advance notice, warning, or explanation, I am left to guess at what really triggered it.
- It’s possible that a malicious user or competitor had people submit my Page as being Spam. Perhaps an automated system gathered multiple invalid reports in a short amount of time and shut me down? Not likely.
- Or perhaps it was a result of the piece published on Ars Technica a week earlier, where the author questions why other extensions’ Pages had been shut down, but not mine?
- Or perhaps my legitimate Page was confused with a user-created Group of the same name that I discovered days later, who was genuinely spamming? If so, isn’t it a scary prospect that someone could use your name to spam others, and get you shut down in the process?
- Or perhaps it was because my Interest List has a huge number of subscribers, and is constantly a target for scammers trying to impersonate me and capitalize on the large following I have there. Maybe that triggered some internal flag?
- Or perhaps Facebook just got tired of me customizing their site for its users. Maybe they were looking for an excuse to try to shut me down, and marking my Page as spam was one way to do it. They took similar action against FB Purity (a “competing” extension, though they also had trademark violation issues) and Unfriend Finder.
The thing is, I don’t even know which – if any – of these reasons are correct because Facebook provides absolutely no information when they decide to shut down your business page.
Tell Facebook What You Think
I’m hoping that with a little bit of user-generated exposure, Facebook may realize that a mistake was made and reinstate the Page.
Here’s how you can help:
- this post to Facebook or other networks.
(Reddit, Slashdot, etc)
- Re-tweet my Tweet about it, if Twitter is your thing.
- Report an Issue with Facebook Pages and tell them why this was a mistake.
(the URL of the page was: https://facebook.com/socialfixer)
- Email Facebook:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Donate to support the project, because I’m going to need a vacation after all this
How To Get Social Fixer Updates
Since the Social Fixer Page was my primary way of communicating with users, I now have to resort to other means. Here’s how I will get in touch:
- The Social Fixer News list still exists, and I’ve created a temporary Page to publish there. You should still see updates from me there.
- This Blog (rss feed) will be where I post important information about new updates, release notes, etc. I always post links to it, but keep an eye out just in case.
- Social Fixer has a built-in feature that lets me put important messages on the home screen of users. I will use that feature sparingly, only for important messages. Never for regular updates or general information.
- As a last resort, I always go back to Twitter (I don’t really like Twitter). You can follow me @matt_kruse
What Will Happen To Social Fixer?
Nothing will change. I will need to setup a new way to communicate with users and offer support, but I will continue developing the application and it will continue working as before. Facebook can remove my Page and take other actions on its own site, but it cannot stop me from developing and distributing a browser extension to improve it. Social Fixer runs in your browser, so you retain control of it. Facebook cannot shut that down.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time “fighting” Facebook. I want to get the word out about this, and I want people to be aware of how easily their community can be erased. But my main interest is in developing an awesome tool for users, and I will get back into that ASAP. Keep moving forward!
Thank You For Your Support!!!
As always, the support from users when things don’t go my way has been fantastic. Everyone is so willing to help out, spread the word, give feedback to Facebook, etc. I really appreciate that. It’s nice to see people willing to give back, because it means you value what I’ve created, and that is what matters to me.
Today, Sep 2, The Social Fixer Page has been removed from Facebook, apparently because they think it contains spam. Obviously, it does not. Luckily, the removal of the Page does not impact the functionality of the Social Fixer app at all. It will continue to function as normal in all ways. What it does affect is my ability to communicate with the hundreds of thousands of people who use my app, notify you of updates or problems, etc.
I do not know yet what prompted this decision, nor do I know if it will be permanent. I have clicked the button to appeal the decision, but I have no way of providing feedback or “pleading my case”.
The actions of Facebook are seemingly random sometimes, and there is little to nothing that users can do about it. I have heard stories from other people whose Pages have been removed without warning, never to be returned. Unfortunately, when we use Facebook as the basis for running a group or business or even a free browser extension, we are at their mercy, and we have no way of knowing for sure what the rules are or how they enforce them.
I will obviously continue following up on this, and hopefully Facebook will realize its mistake and reinstate the Page. If not, I will need to find alternate ways of communicating with users. As always, thank you for your patience as I work through annoying speed bumps like these!