Remember MySpace? The once-popular exemplar of tricked-out design and overcrowded widgetry that allowed – nay, encouraged- endless customization? What a relief when we first set our browsers to Facebook, with its sleek, uncluttered interface and quick loading times! But ever since 2008 — when Facebook pulled ahead of MySpace in the online traffic race — theme customization apps have been popping up all over the place. The most popular of these is a browser add-on called PageRage.
PageRage And The Long-Lost Art Of Skinning
In computer argot, a “skin” is a customized graphic interface that can be applied to a computer program. Most skins change the look of a piece of software; some affect functionality as well. Skins are most often created for instant messaging applications, media players and browsers. Many websites are also skinnable through the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) and a markup language.
Aimed at users who simply can’t stand the standard Facebook design, PageRage is a free browser plug-in, which works with Firefox and Internet Explorer, that allows users to jazz it up. Changes to layouts made from either browser will be viewable on both browsers.
What Is PageRage?
Once you sign up for PageRage and download the plug-in you can choose from hundreds of Facebook themes and install it with the click of a button. (Interestingly, Yontoo – PageRage’s parent company – also makes another plug-in called Sanity Switch that deactivates MySpace customizations.) Other popular apps that let users skin the Facebook cat include FaceTheme, Boost, and Facebook Styler for Google Chrome.
PageRage makes no actual changes to Facebook profile pages themselves, and users viewing the profile without the modified browser will still see the same white background and functional design they’ve grown to know and love.
Facebook’s War On Browser Extensions Like PageRage
Back in 2008, PageRage had its own profile on Facebook. It doesn’t any longer – from which we may deduce that Facebook is not 100% behind PageRage’s agenda. Indeed, most of the heavy hitters on the World Wide Web are no longer behind PageRage’s agenda since PageRage – and FaceTheme as well — are classic examples of adware, a type of software that’s customized to display advertisements. The McAfee Site Advisor lists both PageRage and FaceTheme as safe for your computer which doesn’t mean the programs aren’t adware, only that they aren’t malware or spyware, feeding information about your computer back to the companies’ computers to program the ads that are displayed.
Is PageRage’s Adware Installation Legal?
Adware is not illegal per se. Both PageRage and FaceTheme display ads, the companies claim, in order to subsidize their services so that they can continue offering the Facebook-skinning properties of their browser plug-ins for free. Many would argue to the contrary, however, that the skinning app is mere fish bait for the adware.
The Federal Trade Commission requires that every software bundle containing adware must either clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of adware in its ad copy or else integrate that notice into a legally binding end user license agreement (EULA.)
Nowhere on PageRage’s site or in any of its other promotional copy will you find a single mention of how in addition to allowing you to skin Facebook, the PageRage plug-in will conscript your browser to serve ads. PageRage’s EULA, a click-through bundled with the .exe installer, does contain mention of the ads, though doubtless the majority of users, anxious to get to the fun part, don’t read it very carefully before they hit “I Agree.” Still, it would appear to comply with the FTC’s criteria.
Does Facebook Have Grounds For Legal Action Against PageRage?
In theory, yes – but what you are copyrighting in this instance is not the “design” per se but the actual HTML source code and CSS. The easiest way to do this is by embedding some kind of copyright statement into the source code comments. This will not prevent other designers from “borrowing” your source code, however. The only effective way to protect your source code from infringement is deploy technical measures that will make it impossible for other users to view your source code.
As we mentioned earlier, PageRage and its ilk wreak no actual changes to Facebook’s site itself when they change the social networking site’s appearance on participating users’ computers; they merely tweak the way that Facebook looks when using a particular browser. It appears unlikely, then, that Facebook would have any grounds for legal action against PageRage’s developers.
If you have a similar case in which you require legal assistance, contact a lawyer who is knowledgeable in Internet law.