Jan 15 2009

Facebook Pulls a Whopper

A few days ago Burger King posted an application on facebook allowing someone to win a coupon for a free whopper if they removed 10 friends from their profile. The app would then notify the 10 friends that they had been removed, and give them a chance to install the app (and re-add the friends if they wanted) for their own free whopper. The app was subsequently pulled from Facebook for violating policy.

I obviously have a very skewed perspective on this, having worked heavily in policy enforcement just about everywhere I’ve ever worked, and specifically in application policy at MySpace, but I also think I have a very educated opinion as a result.

The app was a very cute, original idea, and I am one of many who installed it and removed friends for my free coupon (I’m curious to see if I actually get one). At the time, I was slightly uncomfortable with notifying people that I’d removed them from my friends list, but hey – I’ll take a free whopper.

Days later, Facebook pulled the application down for violating their policies. Of course it’s not ok to tell one user another removed them as a friend, that’s just asking for an argument to start “why’d you remove me, don’t you like me anymore?” It’s why people add friends on twitter, then mute them, they don’t want to offend anyone.  Violate policies, get your application yanked. Period. But…

Why was an application that violated policy live in the first place? There’s a pretty simple answer to that, and while I can’t claim I know it’s right, I’d bet that sales was heavily involved in this. The violation in this case was so egregious there’s no way people didn’t know it was violating policy (certainly, at some point, everyone everywhere has approved something to go live where they honestly missed a policy violation). But in this case someone specifically had to have said, “I know this is breaking the rules, but we should put it live anyway,” both on Burger King and Facebook’s side of things. People have let Burger King off the hook for this, but come on, they’re not stupid. I fully believe they were well aware they were breaking policy. It’s not a policy unique to facebook, after all, “don’t tell one user when another deletes them as a friend” is policy on pretty much every service on the internets.

The question for me, anyway, is why did Facebook take it down after allowing it to go in the first place. I personally didn’t hear any kind of outrage over the app breaking policy, most of what I read about the app was exceptionally positive. I really was waiting for some story somewhere to point out the very obvious violation in the application, but most people aren’t quite as much of a policy nut as I am. The media blowup didn’t happen until after Facebook pulled the Burger King app.

So…why risk the PR mess and yank the app? There’s something to this story that we don’t know, and I don’t know if we ever will. But I can’t imagine Facebook deciding to take the app down after it had received so much pickup unless something happened, somewhere. Someone realized it was violating policy, someone threatened them over the privacy issues, Burger King beat Facebook at foosball….something. Enough people had the app installed, and it had gotten so much press attention that there was no way it could be pulled without tons of people noticing.

Ultimately, I’m glad it was yanked, and don’t believe it should have been approved at all. Companies need very clear, very specific policies about this sort of thing, and they need to enforce them. I kind of equate “waiving privacy policy for dollars” to “bribing a cop to get out of a speeding ticket.” Wouldn’t you question why a cop let a guy go who was driving 90 mph, and ticketed you for driving 45 in a 40? There isn’t all that much difference in my mind.

Just play nice with each other. Sites need to make the rules clear, and developers need to follow them. I’ve had people say to me more than once “but the rules don’t apply to me, right?” Rules are rules, no matter who you are or how large your pocketbook is. Until everyone gets to that point (and facebook’s hardly alone at this), this is going to keep happening.

  • By Smart, January 22, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    IMO, App Approval (AA) lives in the dark ages of software. Sure, AA has some value, but in reality is far from a silver bullet.

    The major crux of AA is that it depends on the notion that you write software once with a singular purpose. You ship it to market w/ a EULA, and that’s that. Customers will consume it or not. This is not the reality we now live in.

    The net is alive. After approval, an app can be changed 100% (see: IamInLikeWithYou, Bebo, Twitter, etc.), and is usually changed often and for VERY good reasons. Whether those reasons be market forces, regulation, or whatever — I can’t imagine any company surviving an approval process for every change they make to their software.

    At some point there has to be some line of trust between developers and platforms. After that trust is established, customers (i.e. the market) should decide the rest. Adding bureaucracy to the process should only be done to prevent “gaming” the free-market system.

    I agree that the BK app needed to be changed — they were gaming the system at Facebook’s expense. But, it poses a big question: Are the platforms really the big brother that most users want / need to tell them what they can and can’t do? After all, you wanted that free burger, didn’t you?

    I don’t think MySpace’s AA is a solution that would have prevented the BK situation considering that tons of apps have gamed MySpace developer TOS and continue to do so. Poker chips in exchange for invites being a perfect example…

    All I’m saying is that no system is perfect, especially the ones lacking transparency, which is why Facebook comes away looking so bad in this situation.

    In any case, I enjoyed the post. Thanks.

Other Links to this Post

  1. I got my whopper! | StephanieBamBam.net — January 27, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

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