In-Depth: A Line-by-Line Look at Facebook’s Updated Platform Developer Policies

As part of its game-focused product updates, Facebook changed a wide range of policies around what developers can and can’t do on the platform. The company has broadly grouped its dozens of changes into three main areas, with the overall move being to make many more options available to developers.

The changes include new or heavily revised policies, policies that are being turned into best practices (and so are no longer required), those that are getting removed due to now-redundant language or larger product changes.

At its announcement event yesterday, Facebook executives explained that the more lenient policies are partly the result of the product changes. Because it will not show news feed stories from games to non-players, for example, it is greatly increasing the variety of news feed stories that it can show to gamers.

The documentation, which you can view in its full current form here, also has a guide that includes brief description of Facebook’s rationale for each change. We’ve organized it by type of change, below, for easier reading. Each item that has somehow been altered appears below, in bold, and is followed by Facebook’s verbatim rationale as stated in the above document; in some places, we add our own commentary, in italics.

Also, note that all document numbers below reflect the previous version of the document, from July 27, 2010. We’ve included the numbering for new or revised current policies where applicable. For each section below, the bolded text is a policy from the previous version that Facebook has made some sort of change to.

Revised Policies

V.1   You must not incentivize users to grant additional permissions or use Application Integration Points.

Facebook’s New Replacement Policy states: You must not incentivize users to use (or gate content behind the use of) Facebook communication channels, or imply that an incentive is directly tied to the use of our channels.

Our thoughts: Facebook has long been trying to crack down on this practice, as it distorts normal social interactions between players to get them playing more games, and thereby interferes with the overall Facebook experience. The effectiveness of incentives around communication channels, of course, has made these tactics a hit with developers.

The policy can be found under IV.1 now.

V.3     You must not prompt users to send invitations, requests, publish a Stream story or use other Facebook communication channels immediately after a user allows access or returns to your application.

Facebook’s New Replacement Policy states: You must not prompt new users to send invitations immediately after they connect with your application.

Our thoughts: This appears to make it easier for users to send requests and publish to the stream. Requests are now located within the left-hand navigation bar and only existing users of the app will see stream stories, so the possibility of spam is reduced.

The policy can be found under IV.6 now.

V.4 You must provide users with a “skip” button on any page where users are prompted to use a Facebook communication channel (e.g., invitations and requests) that is adjacent to and the same height and design of the send option. If a user chooses to “skip” you must not present the user with a similar prompt during that user’s visit to your application.

Facebook’s rationale: We are replacing this policy after receiving feedback that we were interfering with game design and mechanics. With the new policy, you have discretion as to where you place the skip option (e.g., right next to the send option or by using an “X” in a dialog box), but our expectation is that users are able to easily find this option. For example, an “X” in a dialog box will be sufficient, provided it is not so small that a user would have trouble finding it. In addition, a “skip” button near any send option is sufficient provided no efforts are made to hide the skip option from users. New Replacement Policy states: You must provide users with an easily identifiable “skip” option whenever you present users with an option to use a Facebook communication channel. If a user chooses to “skip” you must not present the user with the same prompt during that user’s visit to your application.

Our thoughts: Facebook is trying to ensure more flexibility for developers while continuing to prevent deceptive behavior.

The policy can be found under IV.4 now.

VI.A.1 You must not present users with the Feed form or publish a Stream story unless a user has explicitly indicated an intention to share that content, by clicking a button or checking a box that clearly explains their content will be shared.

Facebook’s rationale: We are replacing this policy after receiving feedback that we were interfering with game mechanics by creating a two-click confirmation process for applications that chose the Feed form. With the new policy, if you use the Feed form – which we encourage because it gives users the opportunity to preview and customize the content – you can present the user with the Feed form without the user first confirming that they want to share with friends. New Replacement Policy states: Users must always consent to any Stream story you post on their behalf. If you do not use the Feed form which gives users the option to preview and customize their post, you must not publish a Stream story unless a user has explicitly indicated an intention to share that content, by clicking a button or by checking a box that clearly explains their content will be shared.

Our thoughts: Similar to the V.4 change, Facebook wants to provide more flexibility to developers while still controlling for tricky interfaces.

The policy can be found under IV.3 now.

Best Practices, No Longer Policies

II.7 To change the name of your application, you must use one of the following formats for 30 days before completely switching to your new application name: “New name (formerly ‘old name’)” or “New name (renamed).” For example, “App 2 (formerly App 1)” or “App 2 (renamed).”

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage you to follow this model as a best practice for alerting users to your application’s name change, but this is no longer required under our policies.

IV.B.1 If your application contains content unsuitable for consumption by the general Facebook user base (e.g., strong language, fantasy violence, simulated gambling; see also MPAA PG-13 and ESRB Teen standards), you must describe the nature of the content in the Info section of your application’s Profile page.

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage you to follow this model as a best practice for alerting users to the nature of the content in your application, but this is no longer required under our policies.

V.5 You must not pre-select more than one person to receive information through a Facebook communication channel.

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage you to follow this model as a best practice, but this is no longer required under our policies.

Our thoughts: Mass-preselection was an early issue on the Facebook Platform. Facebook is now loosening that back up a bit.

V.6 You must only use one Facebook communication channel in response to a user’s single action.

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage you to follow this model as a best practice, but this is no longer required under our policies.

V.8 Your Application tab label must not contain a call to action (e.g., “Click Here”).

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage you to follow this model as a best practice, but this is no longer required under our policies.

VI.A.3 You must not use Stream stories as a method for users to invite friends to your application.

Facebook’s rationale: We encourage this model as a best practice, but this is no longer required under our policies. Please note that our policies prohibit you from providing users with the option to publish the same Stream story to more than one friend’s wall at a time.

Removed Policies:

I.1 You must provide a link to your privacy policy and any other applicable policies on every page of your application.

Facebook’s rationale: We are removing this policy because it is redundant to other Facebook Platform Terms and Policies, i.e., we still require developers to post a link to their privacy policy on their application or website. We’ve also added a requirement that you include your privacy policy URL in the Developer Application. When you include your application’s privacy policy URL in the privacy field, a link to your application’s privacy policy will appear on the unified data permissions dialog (http://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/378).

Our thoughts: Facebook recently added a similar change to its overarching governance documents, which are open to comment until Friday.

V.2 You must not require users to grant additional permissions or add Application Integration Points, and must only request extended permissions at reasonable times when the user engages with features that would require the use.

Facebook’s rationale: We are removing this policy in light of our unified data permissions dialog (http://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/378), which gives users transparency and control over the information they give applications or websites and provides you with a streamlined flow for requesting multiple permissions.

Our thoughts: The April changes to permissions made this line obsolete.

VI.A.5 You must not include calls to action in the body of your Stream stories (e.g., “Beat her score!” or “Can you beat her score?”). A call to action must only be presented as an action link (in line with “comment” and “like” and similar to Facebook’s stories in design).

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy after receiving your feedback that it was difficult to understand and comply with. We continue to prohibit advertisements and cross-promotion in the Stream. You have discretion in regards to your messaging provided the Stream story accurately represents actions a user has taken or content a user wants to share.

Our thoughts: This policy is not entirely removed — the point of the change is to make it easier for developers to offer calls to action that are not unwanted.

II.1 You must not confuse, mislead, surprise, or defraud anyone.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.3 You must not use a user’s session key to make an API call on behalf of another user.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.5a You must not inform a user that someone has removed the user as a friend.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.5b You must not track visits to a user’s profile, or estimate the number of such visits, whether aggregated anonymously or identified individually.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.6 You must not significantly alter the purpose of your application such that users would view it as entirely unfamiliar or different.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.9a Special provisions for email addresses obtained from us: a. Emails you send must clearly indicate that they are from you and must not appear to be from Facebook or anyone else. For example, you must not include Facebook logos or brand assets in your emails, and you must not mention Facebook in the subject line, “from” line, or body header.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

II.10 Jabber/XMPP support:

a. You must not pre-fill messages or otherwise act on a user’s behalf.
b. You must use the Connect-based authentication method unless your application is a standalone desktop or mobile application that does not have a Facebook application ID.
c. You must only use Jabber to enable a full chat session by providing users with the ability to send and receive messages.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.1 Adult content, including nudity, sexual terms and/or images of people in positions or activities that are excessively suggestive or sexual;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.2 Obscene, defamatory, libelous, slanderous and/or unlawful content;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.6 Inflammatory religious content;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.7 Politically religious agendas and/or any known associations with hate, criminal and/or terrorist activities;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.8 Content that exploits political agendas or uses “hot button” issues for commercial use regardless of whether the developer has a political agenda;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.9 Hate speech, whether directed at an individual or a group, and whether based upon the race, disability, sex, creed, national origin, religious affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or language of such individual or group;

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.A.11 “Spam” or other advertising or marketing content that violates applicable laws, regulations or industry standards.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.B.2 You must provide users with a way to report user-generated content and timely address any user reports.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

IV.C.2 Your advertisements must comply with our Advertising Guidelines.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

V.11 You must not set a custom privacy setting unless the user has proactively specified that they want this non-default setting.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

V.12 You can tag a photo only with the express consent of the user on whose behalf you are doing the tagging, and must only tag images when the tag accurately labels what is depicted in the image.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

VI.A.4 You must use discretion when publishing Stream stories and must not misuse the Stream by publishing an excessive amount of stories on a user’s behalf.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

VI.B.1 You must use the counter only to inform users about legitimate actions that they should take within your application, and must not use the counter for promotional or marketing purposes.

Facebook’s rationale: We are deleting this policy, because it is covered in other existing terms and policies.

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3 Responses to “In-Depth: A Line-by-Line Look at Facebook’s Updated Platform Developer Policies”

  1. Kevin Mc says:

    Thanks for the explanation – I don’t understand this point, though:

    “Requests are now located within the left-hand navigation bar and only existing users of the app will see stream stories, so the possibility of spam is reduced.”

    So if my application (not a game) posts something to the stream of one of my users, *only* the friends of my users who *already* use my application will see those stories?

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