With Big App Suspensions, Facebook Shifts Ad Policing Burden to Developers (Updated)

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facebook platform developersLast week, Facebook confirmed to us that they weren’t planning on revisiting the new Platform ad network policies related to user data any time soon. And based on multiple suspensions of large apps this weekend, Facebook showed that it’s not hesitating to enforce these policies either.

On Friday night, Facebook suspended a number of applications – including Familybuilder’s Family Tree (with 5.3 million monthly active users) and FamilyLink’s We’re Related (20.4 million monthly active users) – citing the following reason in the policy action email:

“Your application contains ads that link to landing pages completely unrelated to the content in the ad and thus are misleading.”

Following the suspension, Familybuilder CEO Ilya Nikolayev reached out to us to express his concern that the company was given no warning before its app was suspended. Nikolayev says the offending ad was eventually traced to one ad being shown by one ad network to users in one country (Canada), and that they would gladly have turned all ads off in order to identify the offending ad had Familybuilder been given the chance.

Platform ad networks have subsequently taken further action to shut down any ads that they fear may be subject to any issues. As it is, however, Facebook appears to be wanting to make it clear that developers partnering with ad networks that violate its policies will be suspended – even if the ad networks are only serving a very small percentage of offending ads.

As Paul Jeffries, head of Facebook’s Platform Policy team, wrote in the Developer Forums (emphasis added):

On July 28th we announced new advertising policies and said “[w]e’d like to remind you that you are responsible for all content within your application, and will be held accountable for any policy violations in ads appearing in your application, regardless of whether you have served them or they come from a third-party ad network.  Facebook will enforce against developers and applications that include policy-violating ads — such as by imposing a temporary restriction on functionality or permanently disabling the application — as we do for other instances of policy violation.”

Since then we have been taking action when necessary.  In addition to prior enforcements, recently some applications were temporarily suspended for running a high percentage of violating ads.  These poor ads — even from a small number of applications — can diminish user confidence in all advertising, adversely impacting the entire Platform ecosystem. However, these apps were not permanently disabled, and assuming there are no other policy violations, will be restored in several days at the end of the scheduled suspensions.  We do want to note that in some cases apps may be permanently disabled for ad violations.

As we’ve mentioned, if you run ads from third-party networks, we encourage you to monitor those ads, and work with your providers to ensure compliance and high quality.  Don’t run ads from networks you don’t trust or you catch violating the guidelines.  You may wish to ask your network to explain how they protect you and users, whether they have a process for receiving ad complaints, whether they offer you transparency into the variety of ads they run in different locations, and whatever other assurances you as a publisher would like to demand in exchange for allowing access to space you are accountable for.

We’re excited about all the value you create for users and your dedication to building on Platform, and want to encourage monetization and your success.  We’ll keep looking for ways to help.  But remember that you are clients of the ad networks;  they should be serving your needs.  For the percentage of developers that are outsourcing your monetization and user experience to them, are they doing what you require for them to earn your trust and access to your users?

Paul C. Jeffries
Platform Policy Team

While Facebook has previously suspended ad networks for ads that violate Platform policies, it’s clear that Facebook is now shifting the burden to developers themselves to ensure that their ad network partners are within the bounds of Platform policy. This means that the ad networks will need to do a lot of work to convince developers that they’re monitoring their ads closely – many small developers simply don’t have the resources to monitor ad inventory from all their ad network partners around the world 24/7.

We’ll let you know as Facebook says more on these suspensions.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson issued the following comments on this weekend’s suspensions:

Since introducing updated policies for third-party ads on Facebook Platform in July, we’ve consistently taken necessary steps to ensure user trust is maintained with applications. As part of this effort, applications serving third-party ads that are not appropriate or put users at risk have been warned, temporarily suspended, and in rare cases disabled.

As part of an open platform with almost unlimited options for monetization, we believe it is the responsibility of both developers and ad networks to make sure the content running in applications is appropriate. We’re confident that the collective efforts to review third-party ad content will provide the expanded monetization and growth opportunities that come with a thriving platform ecosystem that users are excited to participate in.

We will continue to look for ways to provide best practices to developers and are interested in any feedback from the community on areas where we can help.