Facebook Proposes To Ban Sponsored Status Updates

Today Facebook has posted a note to its blog indicating that it’s proposing an update to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities — one of the site’s documents that establishes user rights and Facebook’s Terms of Service. The post notes that these changes “mostly include clarifying changes and minor updates”, but there is at least one change that has some significant implications: Facebook users are banned from “using their personal profiles for their own commercial gain”, with selling status updates to advertisers explicitly being singled out as a violation.

This stands in stark contrast to Twitter, which permits (or at least, doesn’t actively discourage) so-called “Sponsored Tweets”, which typically include a link to an online store along with a tag indicating that a tweet was sponsored. The idea behind such updates is that users can share products they like with their friends and make money in the process, but it’s a system that can quickly devolve into a spam fest. With plenty of services in this space that include Izea and Magpie, the PayPerPost model is becoming disturbingly popular on Twitter.

Of course, Facebook offers Pages which do allow for commercially-sponsored updates. But the distinction between the two types of profiles are quite clear, and I don’t object to status updates from celebrities endorsing a product nearly as much as I would if it came from one of my friends who became overly-greedy.

One other significant change comes in the way Facebook regards users who are accessing the site from countries that the US has an embargo against. The current terms state that users “will not use Facebook if you are located in a country embargoed by the U.S., or are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals.” Facebook has now revised this to only apply to commercial activities, with the new proposed terms stating:

We strive to create a global community with consistent standards for everyone, but we also strive to respect local laws. The following provisions apply to users outside the United States:
1. You consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.
2. If you are located in a country embargoed by the United States, or are on the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of Specially Designated Nationals you will not engage in commercial activities on Facebook (such as advertising or payments) or operate a Platform application or website.

These changes are only proposals so far (Facebook users now have a week to submit their thoughts on the changes), but I’d be surprised if there are many objections.

One sidenote: Facebook is running its Governance section so that users can have their say regarding how the documents are written. But there’s apparently no way to see the diffs between each document — in other words, you have to put them side by side and look for any difference in wording manually. To make this even more frustrating, Facebook is arbitrarily inserting rules in the middle of numbered lists rather than adding new rules to the end. Fortunately Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt says that the company will look into addressing these issues, so they may well be resolved the next time the site proposes a change in its TOS.