As social media matures and users become more concerned about the privacy of the information they publish online, New Zealand-based search engine app company Profile Technology, Inc. and Facebook are engaged in a legal battle stemming from a dispute over the right to use certain user data. The story first came to light in October 2012, when Profile Technology filed a complaint against Facebook alleging that the social media giant had, after entering into a contract with Profile Technology, breached the contract; interfered with Profile Technology’s business relationships; defamed Profile Technology; and committed unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices.
Profile Technology’s complaint sets forth a narrative beginning in 2008, when Facebook and Profile Technology entered into a contract that, according to Profile Technology, was partially written and partially implied by the conduct of the parties. This contract allowed Profile Technology to “crawl” Facebook’s public data in order to create what eventually became “Profile Engine,” a website that allows users to scan through public data of over 420 million Facebook users (making it, according to Profile Technology, “the second-largest social media network in the world”). Profile Technology’s “about” section of the site notes that, on Profile Engine, you can “chat to Facebook friends, browse your newsfeed, meet new people or find a date, all while listening to your favourite music and your friends’ playlists, completely free of charge!”
Profile Technology claims that, around October 13, 2010, Facebook terminated Profile Technology’s contract without notice; cut off Profile Engine’s access to Facebook data; and even de-friended Profile Technology’s founder, Christopher Claydon, from Facebook. This caused Profile Technology to lose business and lose value in the eyes of potential investors. The complaint alleges that Facebook’s actions were part of Facebook’s plan (with several other unnamed defendants) to “impede, interfere with, and expropriate the benefits of the Profile Engine developed by Plaintiffs without regard to Plaintiffs’ legal rights and to exclude Plaintiffs from their use and profit therefrom.” Profile Technology also claimed that Facebook defamed the company by telling Facebook users that links to Profile Engine were “spammy and unsafe,” adding that “Plaintiffs’ Profile Engine is safe and has nothing to do with spam and Facebook knows it.”
As Facebook describes, Profile Technology, while publishing Facebook user data, was not keeping this data current. This meant that pictures a user had deleted from Facebook remained viewable to any Internet user, links to websites with which users no longer wanted to be affiliated remained posted on users’ Profile Engine pages, and certain postings that users had wanted to erase from the Facebook world were memorialized forever. In November 2011, after receiving complaints from its users, Facebook revoked Profile Technology’s license to Facebook and demanded the deletion of all Facebook user information in its possession. As of the date of Facebook’s complaint over a year later, Profile Technology had yet to remove the outdated Facebook user information from its website, causing Facebook to seek an injunction for such removal.