Custom Audiences update: No more ‘scraping’ Facebook user IDs


Facebook has recently updated its Custom Audiences terms of service, preventing the “scraping” of Facebook user IDs for ad targeting.

Through Custom Audiences, advertisers can target ads based on email lists, phone numbers, website visitors, Facebook app user IDs and mobile app users. However, many advertisers gamed the system by uploading email lists of those who weren’t customers, those who didn’t use the company’s Facebook app or hadn’t opted into the company’s service, as well as targeting the user IDs of groups and pages to break into new targeting groups.

This practice, though effective, ran counter to Facebook’s Custom Audiences terms of service. Now the company is taking steps to prevent this.

In a post in the now-closed PMD News group, Facebook’s Abha Maheshwari explained the reasoning behind the decision:

Starting today, advertisers will need to specify one or many App IDs when creating Custom Audiences based on the Facebook user ID or app-scoped user ID in all self-serve interfaces (Ads Create Tool and Power Editor). This requirement will be enforced within the interfaces, and API enhancements will be announced separately at the end of October as part of the breaking change announcements.

By requiring an App ID, Facebook is ensuring that Custom Audiences created only include IDs associated with people who have actually logged in or engaged with an advertiser’s app.

Massimo Chieruzzi, CEO of Facebook PMD AdEspresso, discussed the problem with this approach in a blog post:

Tactics like scraping Facebook User IDs are just shortcuts. They work well but they are totally unpredictable, they come and go every couple of months and could get you in serious trouble – like having your advertising account banned or even being sued for breaking privacy laws. If you’re going after easy money for a couple of weeks that’s fine, but if you want to grow your business they’ll do more harm than good. And that’s not what we want for our customers.

As Chieruzzi shared in a screenshot (above), Facebook now explicitly specifies that advertisers can only upload Facebook user IDs of people who have downloaded or used your Facebook app. Facebook is verifying whether or not the user ID matches up with one in the company’s app database. If not, the ad will be rejected.

Facebook marketing expert Jon Loomer has an excellent breakdown of this update, and laid out what happens to those who flaunt Facebook’s rules, willingly or unknowingly:

First, use the smell test. If it smells wrong, it probably is. I find it pretty easy to stay within the rules if you have a strong ethical foundation.

Second, you don’t want to get on Facebook’s bad side. It could mean shutting down your advertising account. It could mean a lot of things. You may get away with breaking the rules for a while, but the cheaters always seem to get burned eventually.

Cheaters are gonna cheat. And cheaters are gonna get burned. And cheaters will continue to try and manipulate the system for short-term gain while ignoring the long-term impact.

But this should help the many advertisers who innocently followed others, thinking this was accepted practice.

Readers: How will this affect you?