Facebook Cracks Down On Third Party Apps

Feb 24, 2011 (09:02 AM EST)

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Like neighbor Apple, Facebook is unafraid of flexing its muscles with third-party application developers, shutting down several applications over the past few days, according to posts on its developer forum and several social networking sites.

Facebook, which has more than 500 million users, on Wednesday blocked Breakup Notifier, independent developer Dan Loewenherz wrote on the application's Facebook Fan page. The tool, which allowed users to keep up-to-date about changes in their friends' relationship status, had hit 3.6 million users since its debut on Monday, according to Breakup Notifier.

"Hey everyone, so we just received an email from Facebook saying they've shut our app down, we're doing everything we can to try and get this back online and working for you. We need to talk to them and would ask that you guys give us your support during this extreme growth phase," the company posted Wednesday morning on its Facebook fan page . "Thanks for your help, support, and patience and I promise we're working as hard as we can for you to enjoy this! Thank you! Be back up soon!"

Loewenherz told InformationWeek, "We still don't know why Facebook did this, and they haven't told us what we need to do to restore our application. [Any] [p]re-launch testing? hahah, not really. I had no clue that it would become this big."

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson emailed the following statement to InformationWeek: "Breakup Notifier was temporarily disabled by one of our automated systems, which we have in place to ensure apps on Facebook Platform provide positive user experiences. These systems have worked well, cutting spam by 95% last year alone. We're currently looking into the issue and have reached out to the developer."

On Thursday afternoon Breakup Notifier posted on its fan page that the social network was working to restore API access to it.

Both Apple and Facebook enforce such stringent requirements because the stakes are so high: Revenue for games and applications will increase to between $2.60 and $5 per registered user by 2017, according to Trefis. With the unlikely scenario of zero membership growth, that means Facebook could reap revenue of between $1.3 billion and $2.5 billion on games and apps alone.

Last week, app developer Danny416 posted a letter in Facebook's Developer Forum he had submitted to Facebook Platform regarding a poker application, ID 194287413934599, that had been disabled. The developers had paid $1,617 for Facebook ads to quickly reach users for the multi-player application, and received more than 50,000 clicks and about 15,000 installs, he said. Within 12 hours, Facebook disabled the app, said Danny 416.

"The app was not forcing the users in any way to spam. For every action in the game that a user might want to share we display a pop up with two option: skip and share. If a user clicks share we display the facebook window to allow the user to customize the post. Again the user has the option to either skip or post," he wrote. "We strongly believe that facebook bot made a huge mistake which affected us financially and mentally. Our stats show that 90% of our installs came from facebook ads, 5% from invites, and about 4% from shares.

"This is extremelly frustrating because we have no intention of spamming facebook or gathering users through illegal means, otherwise we would not invest so much money in facebook ads," Danny416 continued. "We appealed to facebook and waiting for a resolution to this issue. We understand that on facebook are created 1000s of apps every day with the only reason to spam facebook and measures must be taken by facebook, however our app had no such intentions. Facebook charged us for the installs and banned our app."

On Feb. 22, a developer known only as ekudler posted a query regarding the length of Facebook's appeal process, after his app was disabled for too many calls to stream.publish, ekudler said.

"...I don't think this was my fault since (I assume) it was in comparison to the number of people using the app, but the total users # is inaccurate since insights hasn't been updated since February 16th and the app didn't catch on until the 17th," wrote ekudler. "I really need help right now. my app was actually successful for a change and that is completely dependent on its virality, which I am losing every minute. Also I invested a lot of money into advertising and I don't want to lose it."

Earlier in February, an application written by a developer known as malfer was disabled because of stream.publish over-use, the app developer said.

Stream.publish is designed to reduce the risk of spam-like applications, according to Facebook.

"To ensure positive user experiences on Platform, we run routine automated screens that take user feedback, machine learning, and various algorithms into account and remove spammy applications," Facebook said. "For example, if an application is making an inordinate number of stream.publish calls and receiving a large number of user reports, it may be removed by our automated systems to protect the user experience and the Platform ecosystem."

Businesses in more than 190 countries build apps on Facebook Platform, according to Facebook, and users install more than 20 million applications per day, the company said. In addition, more than 250 million people use external Web sites to interact with Facebook, the social media site reported on its statistics page.

Taking Apple's Lead?

Like Apple, Facebook has written policies dictating terms -- both technological and non-tech -- that developers must adhere to. Although the regulations are detailed in its developer section, some app writers complain they still are uncertain why their software is disabled or banned, according to posts on the site's developer forum. In October, for example, Facebook barred several game developers for sharing user IDs with advertisers.

Credited with changing the mobile landscape with its App Store, Apple dominated the market it invented, although competitors such as Google were quick to follow. In April 2010, Apple changed its developer agreement, in part barring location-based targeting, third-party analytics, and the use of competitors' ad providers within applications. A few months earlier, the i-family maker purchased Quattro, creator of a mobile ad network, followed soon after by Apple's debut of its own in-application advertising product.

For its part, Facebook continues to add functionality to its core product -- the company's Facebook Places, for example, is similar in many ways to location products from Yelp and Foursquare.