Custom audiences are created using any or all of the following possible connection with the advertiser:
• Phone number
• Email address
• Facebook app UIDs
• Mobile app users
• Web visitors
These type of lists could all be used and targeted when there was some connection with the user in that way. It’s understood that it has been mis-used however, with some advertisers using scraping technology to obtain lists without prior connection. This isn’t acceptable practice as it means communicating with users who have not given authorisation for this.
Some have likely doing this knowingly breaking the rules however there are others who may genuinely not have known this. It was always in Facebook’s Custom Audience terms not to use it in this way but it wasn’t necessarily that clear from the way it was worded.
Because of this, Facebook have taken the step to update their Custom Audience terms which make it explicit not to use UIDs in this way. A spokesperson for Facebook posted:
“Our goal with this recent change is to provide more clarity around Custom Audiences for our valued advertisers. There are no material changes to the product, however we have clarified the language to make it clear that we will not use an advertiser’s Custom Audiences for any purpose not authorized by the client.”
Amongst the amendments to make it clearer in the explicit statement that scraping information for UIDs is prohibited:
“You will not collect users’ content or information, or otherwise access Facebook, using automated means (such as harvesting bots, robots, spiders, or scrapers) without our prior permission.”
What will happen if people break the rules now?
Now that it has been made clearer that scraping and unauthorised targeted advertising is no longer allowed, advertisers who persist doing it may face some repercussions. Facebook have not come out and said what will happen if people flout the newly cleared up rule however by making the update so clear and public it’s clear they are planning on cracking down on the practice.
What that means will remain to be seen, potentially it could mean closing down the offending account.