'Facebook banned me', claims developer who created browser extension to help people use the platform less

The legal risks were too high for Louis Barclay to fight so he deleted the extension.
The legal risks were too high for Louis Barclay to fight so he deleted the extension. Photo credit: Getty Images

A developer who created a browser extension to help people use Facebook less has revealed he has been permanently banned by the social media giant.

In a story for Slate, creator Louis Barclay wrote that his chrome extension, 'Unfollow Everything', was designed to allow users to use Facebook's positive features while limiting exposure to negative ones.

The small program meant users could easily delete their news feed by unfollowing friends, pages and groups, thereby avoiding the endless scrolling that keeps people glued to their screens.

"This isn’t the same as unfriending. If you unfollow your friends and groups, you’re still connected to them, and you can look up their profiles if you want," Barclay wrote. 

"This leaves you free to use Facebook without the feed, or to more actively curate it by refollowing only those friends and groups whose posts you really want to see."

His work grabbed the attention of Swiss academics from the University of Neuchatel and he started working with them to study the impact of the news feed on time spent on the platform and the overall happiness of its users.

But then Facebook sent him a cease and desist letter.

Despite having just a small audience of just 2500 weekly active users and 10,000 downloads, the social media giant wasn't playing games.

"The company demanded that I take down the tool. It also told me that it had permanently disabled my Facebook account - an account that I’d had for more than 15 years, and that was my primary way of staying in touch with family and friends around the world," Barclay wrote.

In the letter Facebook said Barclay's extension allowed automation of actions on the platform as well as using the company's trademarks, something that violates Facebook's terms.

It also demanded he hand over a complete list of all of his Facebook and Instagram accounts, domain names, and every single version of the software code he wrote as well as telling him he could never write another tool that could be used on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp.

"I was really scared and I was very anxious. I just very much saw it as something that improves the Facebook experience for Facebook users," he told Business Insider. 

"I got amazing feedback from people saying they were using Facebook in a way that was much healthier for them."

But despite the positive feedback and finding the demands "outrageous" the legal risks were just too high for Barclay to fight back. 

If he lost the fight in a UK court, he could have been held personally liable for Facebook's legal costs and so Unfollow Everything was deleted.

Barclay wrote he found the Mark Zuckerberg-run company's behaviour both anti-competitive and anti-consumer.

"We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them.

"The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook."

There was one bright spot to come out of the whole issue, according to Barclay.

"My own Facebook addiction is now definitively under control," he concluded.