Who: Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”)
When: 7 August 2014
Law stated as at: 9 September 2014
On 7 August, Facebook released a new version of its API and, along with it, made a few changes to its Platform Policies which govern how developers can use their apps on the Facebook platform.
The policy has been updated in two respects:
1. Transparency on in-app charges
The first change requires games which include mandatory or optional in-app charges to make it clear that this is the case in the app’s description. This is to give people a clear indication that the game may charge them during gameplay before they start playing.
The model whereby players can purchase additional lives, tokens or credits to enhance their gameplay or their chances of success is common. In particular, the ‘freemium’ pricing strategy has been popular amongst developers, whereby the initial gameplay is free of charge, but upgrades or extra in-game content comes at a monetary cost. Models incorporating in-game payments will still be permitted, but only insofar as there is upfront clarity that these payments may be required. This is a clear signal that Facebook is pushing for consumer transparency when it comes to paid-for content.
2. No additional incentive to “like”
The second change prohibits incentivising Facebook users to use social plugins or “like” a Facebook Page.
Incentivising in this context means offering awards or prizes to Facebook users who like a business’ Page, or gating apps or any app content based on whether or not a Facebook user has liked a Page. It should be noted, however, that Facebook has specifically acknowledged that it remains acceptable to incentivise people to login to an app, checkin at a place or enter a promotion on the business’ Page.
Many brands currently roll out Facebook promotions where liking their page a requirement of entry. When the new policy comes into force, this will no longer be possible. Facebook’s statement says that, ‘to ensure quality connections and help businesses reach the people who matter to them, we want people to like Pages because they want to connect and hear from the business, not because of artificial incentives’.
Why this matters:
The changes will be effective as of 5 November 2014. As such, brands and app developers will have to ensure that their offerings or promotions adapt in such a way that they comply with the new Platform Policy, or risk being penalised by Facebook.
With regards to the first change, this should merely be a case of developers refining app descriptions to make clear the potential for in-app charges.
The second change may have a slightly wider impact. It is obvious that Facebook wants “likes” to reflect genuine popularity of brands or apps rather than merely the number of Facebook users keen to get their hands on a prize who have no further interest in the Page. However, marketers will now no longer be able to rely on the appeal of like-based promotions or access to exclusive Facebook content through ‘app-gating’ as a way to engage with Facebook users on a longer-term basis. These have both been powerful marketing tools for years, but now brands will have to think of ways to drum-up popularity and generate Page “likes” without offering additional incentives to Facebook users.