Facebook's Ban Bot Leaves Some Developers Baffled (And Angry)

Over the last few days the TechCrunch tips box has seen a surge in complaints from Facebook developers who have had their applications disabled without warning. Facebook’s developer forum is filled with threads as developers cry foul, saying that Facebook is killing their businesses without warning or just cause. And developers in a thread on Hacker News are reporting similar problems. So what’s going on?

The sudden bans are the result of an automated Facebook bot, which automatically shuts down applications that it deems to be spammy. Obviously neither users nor Facebook want spammy applications on the platform, but there’s one problem: Facebook recently tweaked this bot to be much more aggressive, and it didn’t give developers any warning before it set it loose.

Facebook declined to share any data on how many applications have been affected — it would only give us the same statement that it gave to All Facebook, which reported on the issue last night:

“Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to improve our automated systems that catch spam and malicious behavior on the platform. These systems allowed us to cut spam on the platform by 95 percent in 2010, greatly increasing user satisfaction and trust with apps on Facebook. Recently, we started getting a lot of user feedback, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. As a result, we turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account. This resulted in a number of applications with high negative user feedback being disabled or having certain features disabled. We’ve posted a link for developers where they can appeal if they feel they’ve been disabled in error. Also, we’re working on new analytics to help developers better monitor negative user feedback to prevent a spike like this in the future.”

To be clear, many of the applications that Facebook shut down probably are spammy. But others, like GoodReads, are perfectly legitimate. Facebook now seems to be actively reinstating applications that were wrongfully blocked — GoodReads was fixed last night, and we’ve received reports from another developer that their applications were recently reactivated without any additional explanation.

But it’s not as if Facebook can just wave its hand and suddenly put things back the way they were. Some of these developers are having to deal with an influx of user complaints. And some devs are losing faith in the platform entirely, as they fear having their business pulled out from under them without warning. As one developer, whose application was blocked and then reactivated upon appeal, put it:

“I will no longer be content to view Facebook as an environment to handle user traffic. They will be a mechanism for user acquisition alone.”