Policy Watch: Facebook Adds New Platform Policies on Photo Tagging, Extended Permissions

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While the Facebook Platform is in the middle of a larger set of product and policy changes originally announced last fall, the Facebook Platform team has announced three new additions to its official Platform Policy regarding photo tagging, extended permissions, and user prompts.

Overall, these new policies are designed to address some patterns of behavior Facebook is seeing in some applications that tend to spam the stream. Let’s take a look at each one:

1. Photo Tagging

Here’s the new policy: “You can tag a photo only with the express consent of the user on whose behalf you are doing the tagging, and must only tag images when the tag accurately labels what is depicted in the image.” (DPP V.13)

Facebook adds in their blog post today, “Photo tagging should be used to tag a photo of the real individual in a real photo, and must not be used in collages, with avatars, or for marketing or promotional purposes.”

In other words, the class of apps that specializes in viral growth via photo-tagging collages just got neutered. Facebook has determined that this kind of behavior is not congruent with what it wants the user experience to be with Platform applications. Instead, it seems to prefer to favor more utility-oriented applications that offer photo tagging as a feature, not as the primary viral mechanic.

2. Getting User Consent Even After Getting Extended Permissions

Here’s the new policy: “You must not publish a Feed story unless a user has explicitly indicated an intention to share that content, by clicking a button or checking a box that clearly explains their content will be shared.” (DPP VI.A.1)

The issue here is that Facebook has created a publish_stream extended permission that apps use to publish feed stories on the user’s behalf that is by its nature open to potential abuse by developers who publish feed stories without getting explicit permission from users.

As Facebook adds in their blog post, “As with all extended permissions, publish_stream can add value to the user experience when properly used, and should be used carefully. Although a user grants the technical permission, developers must continue to seek the user’s explicit consent when performing actions on his or her behalf. By doing so, your applications will be consistent with the intent of the product and will demonstrate a high regard for user trust.”

We’ve received multiple reports from developers complaining that some apps are growing by forcing users to accept extended permissions, then spamming their feed as a result, without Facebook doing anything about it. This announcement appears intended to be a signal that Facebook plans to crack down on that more.

3. Posting the Same Feed Story to One Friend’s Wall at a Time

Here’s the new policy: “You must not provide users with the option to publish the same Feed story to more than one friend’s Wall at a time.” (DPP VI.A.2)

Facebook adds, “When asking users to publish a Feed story, do not use a friend selector or other means to select more than one friend at a time… We’ve noticed that a number of applications aren’t using the permission in a way that is consistent with product intent, including publishing photos that auto-tag multiple friends without the user’s consent, and posting the same Feed story to multiple friends’ Walls, which spams the stream.”

This one is pretty straightforward. Some developers are asking users to post content to a bunch of friends’ walls, and not all users may even understand what they’re doing.

In all cases, Facebook enforces punishments (such as removing access to communication channels) and suspensions on a case by case basis. Usually, first time offenders get lighter punishment, but as the severity of the problem and/or scale of the app grows, Facebook’s Platform policy team imposes stiffer penalties, occasionally suspending or banning apps altogether.

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