Samuday Cries Foul Over Facebook Video Chat URL

Did Facebook exercise eminent domain in acquiring the URL for video chat?

Did Facebook exercise eminent domain in acquiring a URL for video calling?

Samuday Web Technologies founder and Chief Executive Officer Nimit Kumar certainly believes so, writing a long blog post detailing the disabling of its app, Video Calling, April 7.

The Samuday app shared the same URL being used by the new Facebook app: facebook.com/videocalling.

Kumar said the company’s Video Calling app used its uniRow real-time communication and collaboration platform to provide browser-based video chat for up to four people, including non-Facebook contacts, and after three months, it totaled 22,000 users, 8,500 active users, and 4,500 likes.

He added:

We had spent around $4,000 for running ads on Facebook to promote the application. It is interesting to note that Facebook has a review mechanism for advertisements and, therefore, it would be only fair to assume that spammy applications would not be able to run their ads. So if we were in violation, why was Facebook running (and encouraging us to run more) advertisements? Clearly, something is not right.

Facebook recently launched Video Calling (only one-to-one) in partnership with Skype at http://www.facebook.com/videocalling. Yes, you guessed it right! This was the page URL of our fast-growing Video Calling application that Facebook disabled — without any explanation, of course — April 7. Clearly this had nothing to do with any policy violation. Facebook wanted the URL for itself, and went ahead and disabled an application, demonstrating its one-upmanship attitude in dealing with situations.

When we tried to understand the reasons for this action, a generic email was sent that basically read:

This app prefills users’ messages, and this is not allowed according to our Policies (point IV.2): “You must not prefill any of the fields associated with the following products, unless the user manually generated the content earlier in the workflow: Stream stories (user_message parameter for Facebook.streamPublish and FB.Connect.streamPublish, and message parameter for stream.publish), Photos (caption), Videos (description), Notes (title and content), Links (comment), and Jabber/XMPP.

We recommend that you fix this and relaunch the app. Also, in order to avoid bad user feedback, we recommend you to monitor user reports and be sure to comply with all Facebook Principles and Policies.

We obviously did not prefill any fields without any user action. This explanation seemed more like, “This is what we think, and you can do whatever you want.” In fact, we were so particular about privacy of our users that we shared the following image to demonstrate exactly how we use user information. We seriously think Facebook must have a way for apps to provide details of how they use information in the Permissions Dialog.

The question to ask is: What happened around April 7 (exactly three months before the launch of Facebook-Skype Video Calling)? It is clear that when the plan for rolling out its application was decided, Facebook wanted to use the phrase “video calling” and, therefore, wanted the URL. Instead of communicating this to the page (and application) owners, it went ahead and disabled the application. This is grossly undemocratic and probably illegal (we are looking into this aspect). We tried our best to get the application reinstated, but did not succeed.

We are asking the following questions:

Can Facebook prove that we were violating any policy? If no, why wasn’t the application reinstated when requested?

How did it determine that we violated its policy? Did it dig into the application because we had a URL it wanted and then proceed to find a lame reason to disable the application?

If we were violating policies, why did its advertisement “quality” check allow the application and the page? If its policy violation process is indeed automated, shouldn’t it detect violations from day one?

What happens to the loss of business and the money burnt in advertisement?

If Facebook wanted to use the URL, we wouldn’t have had a problem if it would have shared the intent. Disabling an application on false pretext is loss of reputation for an organization. How does Facebook plan to mend that? It probably needs to mend its own reputation first!

Readers: Does this seem like abuse of power by Facebook, or is this fair game?