Facebook Quietly Updates Platform Policies – Developers, No Linking To Its Competitors!

Facebook made some noteworthy changes to its Platform policies on the 27th of July 2011, adding a couple of new terms developers need to take into account when building apps for the Facebook Platform. Facebook appears not to have communicated the revisions on its developer outreach blog or forum as far as I can tell, and astonishingly, nobody seems to have noticed the policy updates whatsoever (save for one eagle-eyed blogger).

Here are two items that were added to the Platform Policy:

“I.10. Applications may reward users with virtual currency or virtual goods in exchange for user actions that do not involve third parties, but rewards for user actions that involve third parties must be powered by Facebook Credits by integrating Facebook Credits offers.

For example, you may not reward users with virtual currency or virtual goods in exchange for any action in which personally identifiable information is shared with a third party, you may not reward users with virtual currency or virtual goods in exchange for third party downloads, such as toolbars or ringtones, and you may not reward users with virtual currency for engaging in passive actions offered by third parties, such as watching a video, playing a mini-game, or taking an anonymous poll.”

This is another step to force Facebook Credits upon application developers, who can now no longer provide users with virtual currency in exchange for playing a game, participating in a poll or watching a video provided by a third party. Some will inevitably cry foul, but I think it’s a reasonable new term.

But more interesting is this one:

“I.11. Apps on Facebook may not integrate, link to, promote, distribute, or redirect to any app on any other competing social platform.”

Read that again. Facebook is saying that any app that runs on its platform is prohibited from integrating, mentioning or in any way linking to any app on any competing social platform.

For the record, this is in line with Facebook’s advertising guidelines, which state that ads that promote competing products or services will be rejected. In my opinion, there’s a difference though.

Needless to say, this appears to be a very broad measure that could potentially affect legions of applications that redirect or in any other way link to sites such as Twitter, Google+, Foursquare, hi5, Flickr, and a wide range of other social networking services.

It may not be Facebook’s intention of going after these, but the wording of the new terms of the Platform Policy should be of some concern to a number of application developers. For what it’s worth, Facebook says it hasn’t banned any apps based on the new terms to date.

There is, however, at least a whiff of anti-competitiveness surrounding the new terms.

A Facebook spokesperson posits:

“As many companies do, we have policies that prohibit apps from directing users to apps on competing social platforms. We recently updated these policies to ensure they’re clear for developers building on our platform.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with Facebook that the policies are clear or standard, nor do I think developers are actually aware of the policy updates that were made. I also have trouble understanding why Facebook opted not to communicate the changes in policy via its developer blog or forum, given the vastness of its third-party developer ecosystem and the sensitivities that come with such policy changes. They should have learned this by now.

What the updated Platform policy means for apps that link to stand-alone websites or Web apps – say, Twitter.com – remains vastly unclear, too. Clearly, the new terms restrict developers from linking in any way to platforms that compete with Facebook’s core social networking service.

But I, for one, am having difficulties determining what’s allowed and what’s not, and it remains to be seen if Facebook will refrain from banning apps from competitors for violating the new policy terms.

Make of it what you will, but here’s what Alex St. John, president and CTO of hi5 Networks, had to say about the new terms in Facebook’s Platform Policy in a recent email:

“They’re absolutely terrified of other networks like hi5, WildTangent, and Google+ doing a better job of building a social graph, entertaining their audience, and making more money from their users!

They aren’t giving developers a chance to grow audience for their games outside of Facebook. And this mention of Facebook Credits clearly shows how terrified they are of other platforms, like SocioPay, being able to monetize their audience better than them.”

Self-promotional references in the above quote aside, I too believe Facebook updated its policies out of fear of its competition, as a defensive measure against rivals such as Google+ and Twitter.

We’ve contacted Google and Twitter to see how they interpret the policy changes Facebook recently made. A Google spokesperson declined to comment – we’re still waiting to hear back from Twitter.

In related news, Facebook just banned rival Netlog from its platform for violating (other) policies.

(Thanks to my wonderful co-blogger Jason Kincaid for the assistance – although I will gladly take full credit for the phenomenal image up on top)

Also read:

Is Google+ Putting Facebook On The Defensive? (August 2011)

Google+ Ad On Facebook Is Banned (July 2011)

Ad.ly Versus Facebook: Something Doesn’t Add Up (April 2011)