Policy Watch: Facebook Targets Dubious Subscription and Download Ads with Updated Guidelines

Facebook appears to be further tightening its policies around subscription and download ads and offers. The company sent an email to third-party ad networks this afternoon, saying that any ad for subscriptions or downloads will be “required to provide full disclosure of the service being offered as well as the action(s) required of the user in order to engage with the advertised services.” The new policies go into effect at 12am PT on January 4, 2010.

Facebook already requires all ads, including Facebook Ads and offers and other ads on the Facebook Platform, to disclose their terms. However, many mobile subscription and download ads have tried to toe the line. The act of tricking users into signing up for a $10 a month mobile subscription ad has proven lucrative for some advertisers, developers, and ad networks, and kicking the habit has been hard for some, despite enforcement risks.

Here are examples Facebook gives for acceptable vs. unacceptable ad creatives under the updated rules:

Note: the example above is an ad running on Facebook’s performance advertising platform, but the same advertising policies apply to all Facebook Platform ad networks and developers as well.

A variety of advertising-related problems have occurred on the Facebook Platform over the last year. In June, Facebook banned two ad networks for using user data in a way that violated the company’s terms of service. Then, in July, it introduced a more explicit set of guidelines around what sort of ads could be shown. Then, this fall, it began cracking down more heavily on scammy offers, and banned two more ad networks.

Today’s announcement promises “enforcement action” against monetization providers and the developers they work with if ads are found to not comply by 12am on January 4, 2010.

Here’s the email:


Here at Facebook quality and user feedback have always been important considerations for advertising. As part of our ongoing efforts to maintain a high quality user experience across the site, we’re continuing to make both quality and feedback increasingly significant factors in shaping our advertising policies.

Over the past several months, we’ve received significant negative feedback from users about recurring billing and product download practices. As a result, we’ve decided to amend our Subscription Services and Download policies within our Ad Guidelines. Going forward, all ads related to these two areas will be required to provide full disclosure of the service being offered as well as the action(s) required of the user in order to engage with the advertised services.

The new additions to the current guidelines are listed below, and we’ve also included more details on both of these policy changes in the linked collateral. Please use these as guides when delivering current ads or serving new ones in the future.

Destinations: http://tinyurl.com/ykfef5c
Subscription Services:

We ask that you bring all of your ads into compliance with these new policies by 12am PST on 1/4/09. Any ads that are found to be in violation of these policies after this date will be cause for enforcement action on monetization providers as well as developers.  We encourage you to help developers provide a quality user experience and stay within the bounds of our Advertising Guidelines.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation and your support of our efforts to uphold the user experience on Facebook.

If you have any questions about these new policies, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Thank you,
Facebook Ads Team

Subscription Services (new additions)
“The ad must clearly state what action or set of actions is required to qualify for the offer.  If the user must subscribe to a service, the service and offer requirements must both be stated in the ad (e.g. “Subscription Required”)

Downloads (new additions)
“Ads that link to a site that facilitates or promotes toolbars or other non-malicious user-initiated downloads must clearly state the action the user must take to utilize the service (e.g. “Download Required”)

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