Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Facebook killed the “Find Friends Nearby” feature only a day after it rolled out unannounced to some mobile users and under threat of a lawsuit from a company that claimed copyright infringement.

Find Friends Nearby, first called “Friendshake,” was created in-house by one of its engineers during a company hackathon and was merely a test which was rolled out to some users, according to Facebook.

However, a company called Friendthem, which makes an app that use smartphones’ GPS signals to track friends nearby, accused Facebook of copyright infringement and threatened a lawsuit almost immediately after the feature launched. Charles Sankowich, the CEO of the company, previously told Media that he shared his idea with a senior Facebook executive earlier this year.

“I was amazed on Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling ‘Find Friends Nearby,’” said Friendthem CEO Charles Sankowich in a statement on Sunday. “Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson claims the feature was born at a hackathon as ‘Friendshake,’ but we believe they simply stole trademarked materials of Friendthem.com. We are consulting attorneys and assuming this is true and expect to commence a lawsuit very shortly.”

After learning that the new feature was missing on Tuesday morning, Sankowich indicated that his company’s legal threat was the impetus for Facebook’s removal of the feature, while still hinting that a lawsuit could be imminent.

Find Friends Nearby notified Facebook users who enabled the feature on their cellphones whenever a Facebook friend also using the feature was near their physical location by using phones’ GPS systems. The idea was to turn Facebook into a conduit for impromptu hangout sessions with friends.