Services & Software

Facebook unfriended us, company claims in contract suit

New Zealand-based Profile Technology says it got too popular for Facebook's liking, and was cut off from 'public profile' information.

A Facebook developer is suing the social network, claiming the company damaged its business when it abruptly abruptly terminated a multi-year deal that gave the company access to Facebook data.

Profile Technology, a New Zealand-based company that says it created the first ever independent Facebook search engine, said the social networking giant suddenly cut off its access in late 2010, then embarked "on a campaign of destruction" to damage its reputation.

The company is asking for damages with an unspecified dollar amount, but that include compensation for lost profits following when Facebook allegedly cut off its access without warning.

Facebook denied the allegations, but did not comment further.

"We believe the lawsuit is without merit and will defend ourselves vigorously," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET.

Profile Technology's service, called The Profile Engine, went live in 2007, and was originally called "Advanced Search," according to the search engine's Web site. At the start, more than ten million people created searchable profiles on The Profile Engine. Profile Technology also has an IQ Test app, and developed applications for Myspace, Orkut and Friendster.

In early 2008, Facebook allowed The Profile Engine to index the public parts of Facebook profiles, which allowed users to search that information, according to the company. As part of the contract, Profile Technology incorporated social networking features into its search engine, including direct messaging to Facebook account holders whose profiles were listed in search results.

The engine indexed more than 420 million profiles as a result, the company boasts and Profile Technology started making money off advertisers independent of Facebook, according to the suit. By October 2010, "the search engine was generating monthly profits," for Profile Technology.

But then, the suit claims, Facebook shut off its access without warning, leaving it in a lurch:

Facebook failed to respond to plaintiffs' inquiries about the closure. Then, after months of disruption, Facebook falsely denied that it had ever had an agreement with plaintiffs and threatened Plaintiffs with a lawsuit based on such falsehoods. Facebook then flip flopped and demanded revisions in the contract terms so drastic that they would have amounted to delivery to Facebook of all rights with respect to plaintiffs' technology and information. When Plaintiffs refused to submit to the demands, Facebook embarked on a campaign of destruction that included unjustified termination of plaintiffs' Facebook account, which Plaintiffs used to communicate with customers, blocking and censorship of all links on Facebook to Profile Technology products and blocking of plaintiffs' Facebook applications like IQ Test that had nothing to do with the search engine.

In addition to shutting off access, Facebook allegedly disabled the social networking features for the search engine, Profile Technology said in its complaint, including the Facebook login used to access the engine's profile. The company alleges that Facebook disabled Profile Technology managing director Chris Claydon's profile and perpetuated the idea that The Search Engine was "unsafe," or a source of spam email, to keep other companies from doing business with Profile Technology, according to the suit.

You can read the entire complaint below.

Update, 4:40 p.m. PT: Updated with comment from Facebook and additional background.