Facebook Issues Statement About Advertising Policies and User Photos

facebook-ad-photosLast month, Facebook suspended two Facebook Platform ad networks from operating on the Facebook Platform due to deceptive practices and bad user experience. The ad networks were allegedly presenting Facebook users with misleading advertisements inside third party applications (i.e. suggesting a user’s friends had taken an action when they hadn’t), and sometimes putting Facebook user data on outside landing pages in ways that violated Facebook’s privacy policy.

Since then, those ad networks have not served any ads on Platform applications as far as we’re aware, though other Facebook Platform ad networks have continued to use Facebook profile photos in their advertisements in acceptable ways. Nevertheless, rumors have been spreading in recent weeks that Facebook changed its policies to allow advertisers to incorporate Facebook users’ photos more liberally than they had been allowed to before. Today, Facebook issued the following statement to “debunk” those rumors:

The advertisements that started these rumors were not from Facebook but placed within applications by third parties. Those ads violated our policies by misusing profile photos, and we already required the removal of those deceptive ads from third-party applications before this rumor began spreading.

We are as concerned as many of you are about any potential threat to your experience on Facebook and the protection of your privacy. That’s why we prohibit ads on Facebook Platform that cause a bad user experience, are misleading, or otherwise violate our policies. Along with removing ads, we’ve recently prohibited two entire advertising networks from providing services to applications on Facebook Platform because they were not compliant with our policies and failed to correct their practices.

Facebook has always had a very open approach to third party ad networks on the Facebook Platform. Those ad networks are allowed to use friends’ photos in ads as long as the creative is not deceptive and does not violate Facebook’s privacy policies. While third party ad networks do sometimes cross the line, Facebook has shown that it is willing to take substantial punitive action to protect the long term viability of the ecosystem.

At the end of the day, Facebook wants the Facebook Platform to both be a safe place for users and offer developers large, sustainable monetization opportunities. The company has an important responsibility to monitor the ways that third party ad networks are incorporating user data, and at the same time wants to help developers figure out the best ways to monetize through Platform advertising. Ultimately, Facebook may need to either having a more stringent vetting process for third party ad networks doing business on the Facebook Platform or create additional privacy settings to give users the option to disallow any Platform ad networks from accessing their profile information.

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It’s also worth noting that, separately, Facebook has incorporated user photos in Facebook Ads (the ads that run through Facebook’s own advertising system) for a long time. For example, see the thumbnail photos next to the home page ad at right. However, Facebook reiterates in its blog post that, “These social ads always require that you and your friends have taken an express action to indicate your connections with the product or service and that no data be shared with the third party.”

Facebook allows users to turn off this setting by going to their Privacy Settings page, choosing “News Feed and Wall,” and clicking the “Facebook Ads” tab.

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Update: We asked Facebook for clarification about its policies regarding Platform ad networks and whether any changes were planned. According to Facebook’s Barry Schnitt:

We have a number of stated policies that are applicable here, including:

  • The data section of the platform guidelines indicates that just because a developer gets access to user data doesn’t mean that they can use it
  • Developers are not allowed to pass user data they get from FB to ad networks.
  • Apps cannot break the law, and there are rights of publicity issues that come into play here. Facebook is granted permission in the terms to use a user’s photo in an ad but this permission does not extend to developers or ad networks.
  • Not doing anything misleading (indicating a user has taken a quiz when they haven’t is misleading)

SRR 9.2 and 9.3 are also applicable:

  • You will make it clear to users what user data you are going to use and how you will use, display, or share that data.
  • You will not use, display, or share a user’s data in a manner inconsistent with the user’s privacy settings without the user’s consent.

Finally, we’re looking at additional policies that would more specifically address socially rich ads in Platform.