Facebook applications are now barred from using Google's AdSense advertising network, and though the story behind the ban is less than clear, we can safely blame it on the increasingly heated rivalry between the two web giants.
Last week, Facebook unveiled its first official list of approved advertisers for the Facebook platform, and as you might have expected, AdSense is not on the list. "In order to better serve your monetization needs while developing your application, below is a list of companies that provide advertising services on Facebook Platform," the company said.
"Advertising Providers displayed on this list have all signed the Platform Terms for Advertising Providers and are bound by all Facebook policies. Developers must only use services from companies that appear on this list. Any other provider is prohibited until they agree to the terms."
Asked why Google is not on the list, Facebook responded with a statement that completely avoided the "G" word. "We have an up-to-date list of ad providers that have signed our terms that govern ad quality and data use, although more are being added every day," a Facebook spokesman said. "We currently have roughly seventy of the largest and smallest providers on the list. This is a public and open agreement and we encourage new providers to sign at any time.”
Facebook implies it was Google's choice not to sign the new Facebook Platform terms of service.
Among other things, the terms seek to ensure that an ad provider "does not receive (directly or indirectly), possess, or use any data developers receive from Facebook". This applies even if a user consents to share data. "The Advertising Provider certifies that it does not use any data received (directly or indirectly) from Facebook. The Advertising Provider further certifies that it does not possess any data obtained from Facebook, including user data, Facebook User IDs or usernames, and agrees to prevent the receipt of such data in the future," the terms say.
"If the Advertising Provider receives Facebook user data, including Facebook User IDs or usernames, the Advertising Provider will immediately notify Facebook and delete such data without disclosing it to any third parties."
Google did not respond to a request for comment. But the company has been known to push back against Facebook's data sharing (and non-data-sharing policies) in the past. Obviously, Google covets the sort of data Facebook is able to collect on the behavior of users and their "friends" – to the point where, time and again, Mountain View has tried to spin up a social networking service capable of competing with the Zuckerbergian platform. The added twist is that the world has long expected Facebook to offer its own version of AdSense, a version that uses the so-called social graph to target ads.
Famously, Google has barred Facebook from using its Gmail Contacts API until Facebook offers a similar API of its own. Google has long complained that Facebook does not offer an API that would allow users to automatically export email addresses from the social networking service. Using the Google Contacts API, Facebook had offered its users the option of importing their contact names and email addresses from Gmail. But Gmail couldn't offer its users a similar import from Facebook.
On the surface, with its new ad-provider terms of service, Facebook is protecting its users from less-than-wholesome ad operators. But according to one developer posting to the Facebook forums, the company has done just the opposite. "Regarding larger companies on the list - most of them have a very bad track record," he says. "We need a solution here. I'd suggest to either abandon that list as it downgrades the user experience from amazon and google adsense ads to badly designed intrusive ads from 'approved' companies or pre-include public companies on the list as they already have regulation mechanisms to maintain high quality users experience."
"If the whole point of introducing this list is to protect users," says another developer. "it doesn't make sense to ban the best and safest advertisers. Something is seriously broken."
The other force that may be at work here is a possible Facebook AdSense competitor. According to David Kirkpatrick's The Facebook Effect, Sean Parker's original 2005 pitch to potential Facebook investors touted something called "AdSeed," billed as "Google AdSense for social networks". The AdSeed name was never actually used and the pitch apparently referred to Facebook's "sponsored pages" like the one it arrange for Apple – Kirkpatrick referred to the AdSeed pitch as "sheer marketing chutzpah" – but the idea of a Facebook incarnation of AdSense is a solid one.
Last fall, at a conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg downplayed the possibility of Facebook rolling out a web-wide advertising network that targets ads based on your behavior and the behavior of your Facebook friends. "I have no idea when or if it would make sense to do something like it," he said.
But he's confident that the "social graph" – Zuckerberg-speak for "data about all your friends" – can be applied to just about anything on the web. "A social version of anything can almost always be more engaging and outperform a non-social version," he said. ®