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Power.com, a Brazilian start-up company serving as a portal through which people can access all of their favorite social networking sites (including Facebook and MySpace), hosts 5 million registered users and maintains support from prominent backers. Although the site has frequently boasted its success, its future looks grim–at least as it pertains to Facebook.
Last week, Facebook filed a complaint against Power.com in the U.S. District Court of San Jose, California claiming copyright and trademark infringement, unlawful competition and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, among other claims. Following the filing of the suit, the site no longer allows access to Facebook, but users may still log in using their Orkut, MySpace, and Hi5 user names and passwords.
Hoping to provide a site that would act as “the center of the world” by creating an operating system “for all applications for all places,” the company’s chief executive, Steve Vachani, designed a one-stop shop for on-line social networking. Simply by logging in to Power.com, users may view all of their social networking applications at once instead of visiting each site separately. Facebook naturally prefers that users bypass the Power.com middleman and log into their site directly, but rather than immediately filing suit, Facebook attempted to reach a compromise with Mr. Vachani.
Facebook recommended that Power.com access its site through its Facebook Connect application and, although Mr. Vachani had promised to do just that, he failed to meet earlier deadlines. Facebook Connect, a service that allows Facebook users to access their profiles and groups of friends from other sites without supplying their log-in information to those sites, was created to allow users to “integrate with other sites without compromising Facebook’s commitment to safeguard its users’ privacy and security.” Following the filing of the lawsuit, Mr. Vachani has since promised to implement Facebook Connect by the end of January.
Facebook’s complaint highlights its commitment to the privacy and security of its users’ personal information–a continual concern of numerous Facebook users. In its complaint, Facebook asserts that Power.com “essentially admits that its activities violate Facebook’s rights and it has informed Facebook that it made a “business decision” to continue these malicious activities,” including “unauthorized access of Facebook’s computer system” and unauthorized interference with its relationships with its users. Facebook clearly hopes to take an aggressive stand against third parties who could compromise the security and privacy of its users and while this is certainly a valid motivation, Facebook also appears to have legitimate legal claims of trademark and copyright infringement.
Although Power.com disclaims any association with the social networking sites to which it allows access, its very purpose is to enable its users to bypass the actual social networking sites to which their log-in information would normally grant access, thus potentially infringing on the sites’ copyrighted information. Assuming that the claims in Facebook’s complaint are true, Power.com users might reasonably infer Power.com’s affiliation with the site if it used Facebook’s trademark “in a manner that is likely to confuse consumers into wrongly believing that Power.com’s services are affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by Facebook.” Indeed, it appears that Power.com may have induced Facebook users to provide it with email addresses of their Facebook friends so that it could send unsolicited commercial messages that state they come from “The Facebook Team.” If these types of blatant capitalizations on Facebook’s good will did in fact occur, then Power.com may quickly become powerless in a potentially crippling legal battle against a social networking giant.
–Sara Beth Myers
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