Posted 2/25/11 : Are anti-spam bots throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
 
The giant, 500-million-users social networking website Facebook has reportedly started selectively shutting down certain third-party apps, although the reasons and criteria applied are not immediately clear.
 
The publication Information Week broke the story after posts on the issue started appearing across the Internet this week, indicating that a wide range of apps have apparently been reviewed by automated anti-spam technology.
 
One banned app, a tool branded Breakup Notifier that enables users to keep pace with relationship changes, had apparently been a major hit in only a few days, garnering some 3.6 million users.
 
"We still don't know why Facebook did this, and they haven't told us what we need to do to restore our application," said a company spokesman.
 
Facebook responded to an Information Week enquiry by advising that the app had been ‘temporarily' shut down by a Facebook automated system. "These systems have worked well, cutting spam by 95 percent last year alone. We're currently looking into the issue and have reached out to the developer,” the response noted.
 
Later the Breakup Notifier spokesman confirmed that the social network was working to restore API access.
 
Information Week reports that revenue for games and applications on major social networking sites will increase to between $2.60 and $5 per registered user by 2017, according to Trefis predictions. Even with zero membership growth, that means Facebook could reap revenue of between $1.3 billion and $2.5 billion on games and apps alone, the publication points out.
 
Another shutdown victim was a poker application, for which the developer had paid out $1,617 for Facebook ads to promote the multi-player app, and received more than 50,000 clicks and about 15,000 installs within 12 hours.
 
Facebook disabled the app, the developer claimed, commenting: "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 options: 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.
 
"We strongly believe that facebook bot made a huge mistake which affected us financially. Our stats show that 90 percent of our installs came from facebook ads, 5 percent from invites, and about 4 percent 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. We appealed to facebook and we are waiting for a resolution to this issue. Facebook charged us for the installs and banned our app."
 
Another developer revealed that his app was disabled for too many calls to stream.publish – a Facebook program designed to cut down on spam.
 
Questioning the Facebook stats on his app, the developer said the product was successful, but that its continued growth was completely dependent on its virality and momentum, which was declining every minute of the time it was not available. "I invested a lot of money in advertising and I don't want to lose it," he complained.
 
Stream.publish was also responsible for the shutdown of the Malfer app, another developer reported.
 
Facebook explained that to ensure positive user experiences, it runs routine automated screens that "…take user feedback, machine learning, and various algorithms into account and remove spammy applications. 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, 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.
 
Although regulations for developers of apps are detailed on Facebook, some app writers complained on the site's developer forum that they still are uncertain why their software is disabled or banned.
 
Another major source of apps, the Apple iStore, changed its developer agreement last year, in part barring location-based targeting, third-party analytics, and the use of competitors' ad providers within applications. This followed the company's acquisition of Quattro, creator of a mobile ad network, followed soon after by Apple's debut of its own in-application advertising product.