Policy Watch: Facebook Updates Guidelines Prohibiting Low-Quality Ads

Facebook has been continuing its crackdown on questionable, if not illegal, advertising practices. Following increased enforcement against advertisers on its performance ad network in March, it made an official update to its ad guidelines terms late last week, although related enforcement appears to have begun in the past few weeks.

Most users have probably spotted some of the problematic ads before — fake dating service subscriptions, non-functional weight-loss products, fake diplomas and other riff-raff. But there are other problems to, like user data theft. Here’s an article with some good screenshots from mid-January (be sure to read the comments for various perspectives on the practice from legitimate and illegitimate affiliate marketers who run ads on the web and elsewhere).

Facebook has been dealing with advertising problems like this for years, as more and more online advertisers have moved in to its growing service. The web currently doesn’t have an effective central policing unit to stop deceptive advertisers their partners in the online advertising industry. This has allowed the a wide array of deceptive ads and privacy violations to occur. Experienced players from the web have then brought their best practices — or perhaps worst practices — to Facebook. The company has more control over its own service, of course, so it has been trying to maintain an open system will targeting problems one by one via its rules and enforcement team.

Screenshots via the aimClear blog.

As we’ve seen with its developer platform and third-party applications, Facebook has started relatively open and tightened up its approach as it has gained experience in the market. The latest guidelines changes underscore points it has basically made already, in one form or another. “Updates to the guidelines include the following themes that consistently generate negative feedback,” it says in a blog post, and here they are, as described verbatim by the company:

1. Unexpected user experiences
Ads may not generate any unanticipated user experiences, including computer performance changes, unanticipated charges, or the undisclosed use or sale of user information.

2. Unclear recurring end products
The advertised offer should directly match the service being sold, and ads should provide users with a clear understanding of that they are purchasing.

3. Unsubstantiated claims
Ads must clearly represent the offer, product or brand being advertised, and may not make unrealistic product claims or false associations with other companies, products or events.

4. Unacceptable business models
Facebook will not allow ads for products or services that rely on a business model deemed unacceptable or contrary to Facebook’s overall advertising philosophy.

Nothing shocking here, as Facebook separately required that all “advertising providers” (advertising networks active in applications) agree to similar terms, at the beginning of February. That move included prohibitions on data sharing and deceptive practices, and explictily gave Facebook deeper access to operational information about ad providers and their advertiser clients on the service.

Number 4, above, is perhaps the most interesting, because it gives Facebook a catch-all reason to shut an advertiser down. Many affiliate marketers are known for carefully skirting rules from online ad platform providers like Facebook. The company is more than ever enforcing by fiat so it doesn’t need to rationalize shutting down borderline ads for things like useless or secretly overpriced subscription services. Low quality will not be good enough, if Facebook deems the business to have no value to users.

Much of Facebook’s efforts over the years have focused on advertising networks in apps, as we’ve been covering. The most recent guidelines hit advertisers directly — we assume they apply to anyone in either Facebook’s performance system or in third-party networks. And they started in March, as we covered in more detail then, focusing in issues like data sharing. Facebook reportedly began contacting offending parties, implementing a part-human, part-software ad detection and removal system.

Since that point, some affiliate marketers have reported the cost per click (CPC) and cost per thousand impressions (CPM) prices dropping significantly (example). It’s not clear how widespread the issues have been, as Facebook doesn’t normally discuss its revenue or its advertising enforcement efforts, and the other parties involved have little motivation to share their experiences about getting busted.

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