Facebook makes recommendations to FTC about children’s privacy law

Facebook filed a 22-page letter with the Federal Trade Commission outlining its thoughts and recommendations for the commission’s proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The social network lauded the FTC’s commitment to protecting children’s online experiences and privacy, but expressed concern about some language in the proposed change, which could hold Facebook liable in cases where third-parties use its social plugins and create additional burdens for Facebook, developers, publishers and parents. In particular, Facebook urged the commission to explicitly allow first-party advertising as an acceptable use of a child’s “persistent identifier,” such as an IP address or cookie ID.

The FTC is proposing that COPPA be expanded to apply to apps, games and online ad networks, in addition to the child-directed websites it currently covers. Some language in the proposal would deem website publishers and developers that use plugins like Facebook Login or the Like Button as “co-operators” with Facebook. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan, who wrote the letter to the FTC, suggests that the language in the proposal “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between plugin providers and website publishers.” The social network, for example, makes plugins available but doesn’t choose which websites use them, which plugins they use or how they use them. Neither does Facebook share data with the third-parties that use its plugins. As such, the company wants to ensure that it would not be held liable under COPPA for offenses by web publishers or app developers that integrate with its platform.

The FTC proposal makes some exceptions for collecting and using children’s information as needed for “support for internal operations.” Facebook requests that the FTC clarify its definition of “support for internal operations” to include data captured by plugins and to explicitly include activities that do not impact children’s privacy, such as first-party advertising. The letter cites the commission’s previous reports that distinguish first-party advertising from third-party advertising because it does not raise the same privacy concerns and is generally an expected part of free websites and online services.

Egan further recommends that COPPA not include language that requires operators of child-directed sites to “treat all users as children” and obtain parental consent even if they otherwise have knowledge that a user is 13 years or older. For example, if a user has signed up for Facebook, the user has verified that they are over 13 by providing a birthdate. Egan says this should apply to third-party sites that integrate plugins without requiring additional consent or age verification. “It would be nonsensical to require an operator to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting information from a parent,” Egan writes.

As we’ve previously written about, Facebook could ultimately serve as a means for age verification all around the web. In its letter, the company suggests that the commission could add explicit clarification that publishers can use a common mechanism to obtain verifiable parental consent, as Microsoft, Disney and a number of organizations have suggested in their comments to the FTC. Doing this, Egan writes, would minimize the burden on parents by reducing the number of times they have to give consent and eliminate the need for multiple detailed privacy notices. Instead, parents could give consent and get notice up front. They would then then get a more specific notice when a child wants to play a game or use a new app. If a platform provides this ability, Facebook argues, it should not assume liability or turn the platform into a “co-operator” with third-party apps or websites that implement it.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Facebook was taking steps toward allowing children under 13 to be allowed on the site, including creating mechanisms that would connect children’s accounts to those of their parents. Facebook has not publicly shared whether it is planning to lower its age limit or how it would do so.

Facebook brings Recommendations Bar plugin out of beta, but it no longer shares what users read

Facebook today officially launched the Recommendations Bar plugin, which serves up recommended articles to readers as they finish reading another.

When a person reaches the end of an article or after a certain amount of time has elapsed, a small pop-up appears at the bottom of a webpage, suggesting other articles to read — including those that friends have Liked or shared. The module also prompts readers to Like or recommend the article they’re on.

The plugin, which was released in beta in September 2011, previously integrated the social reading and sharing capabilities of Open Graph, so users could post what they’ve read to Timeline. But it seems sometime last month, Facebook changed directions and now the plugin doesn’t work as a social reader, though it still includes a Like button for users to actively recommend articles to their friends. A spokesperson says, ”We tested it with social reading functionality but ultimately chose to focus the bar on Likes and Recommends, which is more suited for a broader set of apps and sites.”

The company has received criticism for its “frictionless sharing” apps, which post what users read, watch or listen to. But we wondered whether the previous iteration of Recommendations Bar would help publishers convert their sites to Timeline apps and create a more unified experience across the web so users wouldn’t be confused about how their reading activity would be shared. Now that the company has backed away from offering its own social reader plugin, the user experience will continue to be fragmented across different sites. Third-party companies like ShareThis, however, are hoping fill the void with their own Open Graph sharing widgets.

Facebook’s Recommendations Bar is already being used on sites such as Mashable, Wetpaint and The Mirror. Facebook has offered similar functionality with the Recommendations Box, but that module sits off to the side of an article and because it remains static, isn’t always as noticeable as the new plugin. The social network says early tests show three times higher clickthrough on the stories it recommends through Recommendations Bar than through the Recommendations Box.

Information about how to add the social plugin to your site is available here.

Newly launched Recommendations Bar

Previous version of Recommendations Bar, including social reading options

Facebook testing ‘Want’ button plugin

Facebook appears to be testing a new “Want” button plugin similar to its popular Like button.

Developer Tom Waddington from Cut Out + Keep discovered that a Want button has been added to the Facebook Javascript SDK as an XFBML tag – <fb:wants>. The button is not publicly listed among the other social plugins on Facebook’s developer site. Waddington says the button will only work on Open Graph objects marked as “products.”

With Open Graph, developers have been able to create their own “want” actions, but users have to authorize a third-party app in order for those buttons to generate stories on Timeline and News Feed. If the Want button plugin works similarly to the Like button, users will not have to go through the step of authorizing an app. This means even more users will be likely to click it.

Just as the Like button allowed Facebook to collect massive amounts of data about users’ interests, the Want button could be a key way for the social network to collect desire-based data. A Want button plugin will make it easy for e-commerce and other sites to implement this type of Facebook functionality without having to build their own apps. Many of these sites are already using the Like button, but Liking a product could mean users already have it or that they are interested in getting it. Being able to distinguish between these groups of people and target ads to either one could be very powerful for advertisers and help make Facebook a stronger competitor to Google AdWords.

Although publishing “Want” actions is currently disabled by Facebook, Waddington was able to implement a version of the button on his own site. Clicking the Want button returns an error for now.

We’re waiting to hear back from Facebook for more details on when this might be rolled out and how exactly it will work.

[Update 6/29/12 10:33 a.m. PT - Facebook provided the following statement, "We're always testing new Platform features, however we have nothing new to announce." ]

Facebook roundup: stock up to $33, creative execs join Facebook council, Payvment offers 1-click ad buying and more

Facebook stock up 10 percent - Facebook shares closed at $33.05 today, up 10 percent from last Friday. Despite some bad news regarding a legal settlement that will allow users to remove their names from Sponsored Stories, optimism is growing for Facebook’s potential future to create an ad network. The company also announced subscription billing and a move away from its virtual currency Credits toward a broader payments platform that allows developers to sell items in a user’s local currency, i.e., dollars or euros.

Facebook forms creative council – Facebook announce its inaugural Facebook Creative Council, which convened in Cannes this week. Similar to the the Client Council announced last year, the Creative Council will help Facebook identify priorities for agency creatives. Members include Jeff Benjamin (JWT), Colleen DeCourcy (Socialistic), David Droga (Droga5), Rob Feakins (Publicis), Toshiya Fukuda (777), James Hilton (AKQA), Linus Karlsson (McCann), Amir Kassaei (DDB), Nick Law (R/GA), Mike Lazerow (Buddy Media), Tor Myhren (Grey), Rob Reilly (CPB), Mark Tutssel (Leo Burnett) and Mark Waites (Mother).

AmEx and Facebook team up for small business contest – American Express OPEN and Facebook launched its second annual “Big Break for Small Business” contest. Five small business owners will receive house calls from American Express OPEN and Facebook marketing specialists who help transform a business’ social media efforts. Winners will also receive $25,000 in cash to go toward the social strategies they learn. Every small business that enters the contest will get $50 in free Facebook advertising credits. American Express Cardmembers and merchants who enter will receive $100 in advertising on the site.

Users get easier opt-out from notifications - Facebook introduced a new way for users to opt out of notifications from apps, groups, or other sources that send them. People have always been able to opt out on the Notifications Settings page, but now users can opt out directly from the notifications drop down menu.

Facebook adds comment editing - Users can now edit their own comments at any point after they’ve been posted. Previously, Facebook users only had about 12 seconds to edit their comments without removing them. Now comments that have been edited include an “edit history” that anyone can view. This means users can fix typos or clarify a point, but a full record of edits is available so users can’t deny what they wrote before editing it.

Payvment adds one-click Facebook ad buying – E-commerce platform Payvment announced a new one-click Facebook ad buying service this week to give merchants a way to turn promotional Facebook posts into ads and target users based on their shopping patterns.

New Louisiana law requires sex offenders to list status on social sites – Louisiana sex offenders must now state their criminal status on Facebook and other social networking sites. The law, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., requires sex offenders to list the crime for which they were convicted, the jurisdiction of conviction, a description of their physical characteristics and residential address.

Study: 24 percent of top websites integrate Facebook - According to a study by Pingdom, 24.3 percent of the top 10,000 websites in the world include Facebook integration on their homepages, this includes Facebook login and Facebook plugins such as the Like button. A total of 49.3 percent of the top 10,000 sites include basic links to Facebook.

GE launches HealthyShare Facebook app - GE launched a new Facebook Timeline-enabled app called HealthyShare, a tool for people to share their health goals, track their progress and use friends as sources of motivation toward achieving those goals. The app, which was timed ahead of the Olympic Games, was developed in partnership with Facebook.



BuzzFeed gets permission to use Facebook social plugins for ‘shareable ads’

Social news and entertainment site BuzzFeed has gotten permission from Facebook to use social plugins in advertisements on its site.

Facebook guidelines prevent third-party advertisers from using any platform integrations, such as the Like button or other plugins, in their ads without written permission from the social network. Mashable discovered new shareable ads on BuzzFeed, and Facebook confirms it is conducting “a small test” with “a select group of marketers” to allow this usage on some sites. It did not provide any examples beyond BuzzFeed.

Facebook would not comment on whether it is sharing ad revenue with BuzzFeed or other publishers who use its social features in advertisements. Although the company might not be doing so now, this could be an option for future monetization. More likely, Facebook is simply giving permission to BuzzFeed to use its plugins because its advertisements are more content-based than promotional. Instead of running banner ads, BuzzFeed displays posts from “featured partners” in line with its other articles. These stories share the same style as BuzzFeed’s other posts, for example, a post from Jack Daniels about “Easy party tricks to impress your friends” or a photo post from Hidden Valley Ranch about “10 foods made better with ranch dressing.”

These paid sponsors also get a branded BuzzFeed page with their articles, links to their sites and a Facebook Like box plugin, placement of which is typically not allowed to be bought or sold, according to Facebook guidelines. The social network probably wants to avoid being associated with scam sites that might sell placement of Like buttons or Like boxes. BuzzFeed, however, was an early Open Graph partner and seems to have a similar philosophy to Facebook about how ads should be shareable content, not interruptive.

How Facebook Open Graph can enhance a marketing campaign

Ad agency DDB New York developed an alternative to Facebook’s Like button called “I Care,” which publishers can embed on their sites and users can click to show support for a cause. MTV is already using the button on its website for social activism and the effort has gotten coverage from a number of industry blogs and publications.

It’s a great idea, but the campaign is missing something: Open Graph integration.

Here we’ll explain what Open Graph is and explore how DDB could benefit from implementing it, so that marketers can get an idea how Facebook can be applied to campaigns in ways beyond fan pages and ads to generate Likes.

What is Open Graph?

Open Graph is the way that Facebook organizes the information and connections on its platform. It is an extension of Facebook’s social graph that anyone can build upon, whether by adding simple a Like button to a website or developing full-scale integrations like Spotify’s music service.

When Facebook began, users could only connect with other users. With the introduction of the Open Graph protocol in 2010, users became able to connect with objects on Facebook and around the web by clicking Like. By adding a bit of code to their sites, publishers could turn any webpage into a Facebook object. That means the page becomes indexed in Facebook search and gets added to user’s profiles.

Last year, Facebook expanded Open Graph to allow users to connect to objects with new verbs besides Like. These include read, watch, listen and play. Similar to how developers can create objects, they can now create actions. When a third-party website or app implements Open Graph actions, that app can automatically generate stories in News Feed, Ticker and Timeline. This democratizes Facebook in a way because it means the site can be filled with actions that users take and objects users interact with all over the web and on native mobile apps, not just what users do directly on the social network.

When we write about “Open Graph apps” on Inside Facebook, we are referring to any Facebook canvas app, mobile app or website that has integrated “actions” as a means for users to share their activity back on Facebook. Unlike traditional Facebook apps, Open Graph apps can publish stories automatically rather than having to continually prompt users to post things to their Walls. Another unique feature is the monthly and yearly summaries that developers can customize to tell interesting stories about users over time.

How could DDB use Open Graph?

DDB New York’s Chief Creative Officer Matt Eastwood tells us the agency came up with the idea for the I Care button after the tsunami in Japan last year. He says there was so much activity in social media, but “Like” wasn’t an appropriate expression for the articles and photos being shared. Although the agency didn’t have a client to develop the I Care button for, it decided to work on the project during off-hours and release it for anyone to use. MTV Voices partnered with DDB for the launch, which was covered on Fast Company, Creativity Online and other industry news sites. The button is still in beta, and Eastwood says the agency will continue to make improvements. Here are some recommendations for how Open Graph could help sustain the campaign.

When users see an I Care button, they can click it to add to the tally of people supporting a cause. Currently, however, there’s little payoff in doing so. An I Care statement isn’t seen by anyone unless the user chooses to share the activity on Facebook, but that requires two more clicks. With Open Graph integration, the I Care app would ask for posting permission one time and then would be able to instantly send stories back to Facebook whenever users click the I Care button on other sites. Pinterest does this with the Pin It button and now Spotify does so with its Play button. The I Care button — and any website it is included on — would likely get more attention if it was synced with Facebook in this way.

The I Care button would also benefit from the social context that helped make the Like button so popular. When users visit a webpage that their friends have Liked, they will see those friends’ names and photos. With Open Graph, developers can do the same thing. For example, Hulu shows users which of their friends have watched an episode and most social news apps show users who has read an article. The I Care button might be more powerful if users could see who else they know cares about the same topic.

As mentioned before, monthly and yearly summaries are a key feature that results from Open Graph integration. Many users might like to look back at all the things they’ve said they care about, just like they can see all the books they read on Goodreads or all the movies they rated on Rotten Tomatoes. Currently there’s no way for a user to keep track of where they’ve clicked the Care button or reverse the action.

In addition to supporting Timeline summaries, Facebook generates aggregate News Feed stories based on trends it picks up on in Open Graph activity. A common example is “[a number] of your friends listened to [an artist] on Spotify.” When developers create a more detailed map for their actions and objects, Facebook can return additional stories like “[a number] of your friends listened to songs from [a particular year] on Spotify.”

For the I Care button, this could lead to additional impressions and awareness through aggregate News Feed stories. Someone could click I Care on a news article about global warming and another person could click I Care on a story about overfishing, and Facebook could tell those people’s friends “2 of your friends care about environmental issues.”

DDB indicated that it might start compiling information from the I Care button to show what issues are trending. By integrating Facebook more deeply, the agency could collect additional demographic data about who clicks the button so that it could highlight topics that are most important to people of different genders, nationalities or political affiliations, for instance.

There is also the option of targeting advertising based on Open Graph activity. Right now, the feature is in beta for Ads API partners only, but essentially advertisers can explicitly define its target audience by actions and objects rather than simply Likes and interests. DDB could eventually use its app to direct relevant ads — maybe a Sponsored Story about a new electric car — to users who say they care about the environment.

And that’s something marketers really care about.

For more insights into Facebook marketing and advertising strategies, see Inside Network’s Facebook Marketing Bible.

Facebook beta plugin turns any website into an Open Graph app

This post is an excerpt from the NEW, revamped Facebook Marketing Bible — a major update to the leading resource for marketing and advertising strategies on Facebook. If you’re interested in learning more about this upcoming update, check out a preview at The Facebook Marketing Bible.

The Recommendations Bar is one of Facebook’s newest social plugins, and the first to integrate the social reading and frictionless sharing capabilities of Open Graph. Put simply, the Recommendations Bar allows any website to implement the same social reading and social recommendation features found in “social reader” style applications from the Washington Post, The Guardian or USA Today. The plugin is still in beta, which means that when installed, it is only viewable to developers and testers associated with the website or application. Normal site visitors cannot yet see or interact with the plugin. However, once the Recommendations Bar becomes publicly accessible, we expect it to be a highly effective tool for any news site looking to increase referral traffic and reader engagement.

The recommendations bar is displayed on either the bottom right or bottom left corner of the user’s browser window:

When the user gets to the bottom of an article, the Recommendations Bar expands to reveal two to five recommended pages from the same website:

The Recommendations Bar enables three essential social  functions:

Social recommendations

The Recommendations Bar prompts readers with other articles when they finish the one they’re reading, using Social Graph data to recommend the most relevant articles. This includes articles that a user’s friends have liked or articles that have received a high volume of likes and comments. Essentially, the same “secret sauce” that goes into ranking News Feed posts and Comments is leveraged in the Recommendations Bar, ensuring that readers are recommended articles that are relevant to their interests and social connections.

Omnipresent Like Button that “follows” the user

The Recommendations Bar creates a Like button that doesn’t move, even when users scrolls or resize their browser windows. Many sites currently struggle to determine the most effective placement for the Like button. Should it appear at the top near the byline? At the end of the article near the comments section? As part of the sidebar? The Recommendations bar is a much more elegant solution, as it eliminates the need to place a Like button in a particular location on a given page — its position is relative to the user’s browser window, not relative to site content. While this can be done using relatively simple HTML and CSS, Facebook’s solution is even simpler to implement, and the sizing and display has been thought through down to the pixel.

Social reading through frictionless sharing

The Recommendations Bar allows users to turn on social reading, the same functionality that’s available within canvas applications like the Washington Post Social Reader, USAToday + Me, and The Guardian. Except while those companies spent time and money creating a canvas application within Facebook, the Recommendations Bar provides the same functionality on any pre-existing website, with minimal effort. If you’ve seen stories pop up in your News Feed and Ticker like Brendan read “Facebook CEO speaks out against SOPA, PIPA” on Washington Post Social Reader, the Recommendations Plugin can generate the same kind of rich Open Graph story.

Continue reading for a preview of the NEW Facebook Marketing Bible coming in February!

Facebook optimizes comments plugin for mobile

Facebook has updated its Comments Box plugin to improve functionality for mobile sites, the company announced today on its Facebook + Media page.

People who have already added the Comments Box to their website will find that it is now automatically optimized for mobile. The plugin recognizes when a user is on a mobile device and ignores the width parameter so that comments are displayed at 100 percent. Developers can turn this behavior off by setting the mobile parameter to false and control the width manually. Documentation details are available from Facebook’s developer site.

Previously, websites that integrate Facebook Comments had to resize the box for mobile browsers, but there was not a dedicated mobile version of the plugin. This makes implementation easier for developers, and for users the feature seems to load more quickly.

The social network is strongly promoting its comments plugin as a way for media sites and blogs to improve engagement and reduce spam. We use Facebook Comments on InsideFacebook.com and have written about how the feature can sort comments by relevance and affect a site’s Google search rankings.

Image credit: Facebook + Media

How Facebook Comments impact Google search rankings

This post provides a brief introduction to Google’s update; content publishers and webmasters should read on for the full, free, overview at The Facebook Marketing Bible.

Google’s November 2011 changes to its web crawler have created new opportunities and liabilities for all websites implementing Facebook Comments, with important implications for SEO. Webmasters who properly implement and manage Facebook Comments stand to gain, but the recent changes could significantly hurt the rankings of sites who do not properly prevent and manage spam.

Google announced last November that it had begun indexing Javascript and AJAX content, without requiring webmasters to implement workarounds. While Google has not yet claimed to be indexing 100 percent of Javascript and AJAX content, it became clear soon after the change that Facebook Comments, which is displayed using AJAX and HTML5, are now indexed by Google.

Facebook Comments Example

Previously, in order to get Google’s crawler to index Facebook Comments, webmasters had to use a workaround like displaying an duplicate plain-text version of Comments that was visible to Google’s site crawler, but invisible to visitors, who would still see the regular Facebook Comments.

This workaround required webmasters to use the Facebook Graph API to pull Comments (access to Comments through the Graph API was announced on the Facebook Developer Blog in April). The technical nature of this workaround meant that few websites implemented it, and therefore, for most sites, Facebook Comments had no impact on Google Search rankings.

Given the November change, Facebook Comments are now indexed by Google without any workaround. Since Google’s search rankings are affected by the quality and relevance of the text on a given page, as well as the quantity and quality of outbound links, this change means that any site visitor can affect search rankings by commenting. Quality, relevant comments and links may help boost a page’s ranking, but spam in Facebook Comments may also hurt rankings.

To learn more about the specific advantages of Facebook Comments for site owners, read on for our free, detailed overview in the Facebook Marketing Bible, where we cover:

  • Facebook Comments versus Disqus, ECHO, and IntenseDebate
  • Who should use Facebook Comments? A few examples of live sites that are doing it well
  • Getting a search ranking lift through Facebook Comments
  • Facebook Comments and the spam risk

>> Click to Continue Reading

How the Facebook Comments Plugin Can Boost Traffic, Improve Discussion Quality on Your Site

Facebook Marketing Bible  

Facebook’s Comments Plugin allows website administrators to add user commenting to any piece of content on their website. When this plugin is installed on your website or blog, visitors will be able to comment as their Facebook profile, any Facebook Page in which they have administration privileges or via a number of other identity logins.

Commenters can also choose to have their comments posted to their Facebook wall (profile or Page), and these will appear in the News Feed of their friends and fans, raising awareness and driving traffic back to the original website.

The plugin uses social relevance to determine the highest quality comments for each user, which are then ordered to show users the most relevant comments from friends, friends of friends, and the most liked or active discussion threads. Comments that have been marked as spam by Facebook (or the moderator) are hidden from view.

The plugin offers numerous advantages for websites looking to add comments functionality to their platform, including:

  • Familiarity/ease of use - Facebook’s commenting system is well-established and very familiar to its 800+ million users, which means new visitors to your site won’t struggle with (nor have to register to use) a comment system they don’t recognize. As such, they’re more likely to comment
  • Cross-platform login support - users can login to the plugin with their Facebook, Yahoo!, AOL or Hotmail credentials
  • Synced comments - users can choose to have their comments posted to their Facebook wall (or Page, depending on how they posted), and any Likes and comments made inside of Facebook will automatically sync with the comment on the originating website (and vice versa)
  • Accountability - Facebook’s Comment Plugin does not allow anonymous comments. Because users are contributing under their real name (or Page), this significantly reduces the number of posts websites typically receive from spammers and trolls, and increases the likelihood that discussions will be courteous and civil
  • Moderation - aside from Facebook’s internal spam filter system, further control is provided by a Facebook-hosted moderation dashboard

At the same time, sites should consider the features offered by other comments plugins, like Disqus and Intense Debate, that provide competing sets of services and don’t rely as heavily on Facebook. In some cases, you may decide that you don’t want comments centered around Facebook, like if you’re trying to preserve a sense of anonymity among your readers. We’ll discuss this more below.

Another note here is that some sites currently using the Comments Plugin have been experiencing bugs since it launched earlier this year. While we expect Facebook to continue to improve the product, you may expect issues in the near term.

This is an excerpt from our full article that details how to implement the Facebook Comments plugin on your website. Comprehensive coverage of all the social plugins is available at the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s guide to marketing and advertising on Facebook. 

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