Are User Photos Being Scraped for Ads on Facebook?

Facebook status updates are all a-twitter this morning (excuse the pun). Updates like this one are spreading around Facebook:

Facebook has agreed to let third party advertisers use your posted pictures without your permission. Click on SETTINGS up at the top where you see the log out link. Select PRIVACY. Then select NEWS FEEDS AND WALL. Next select the tab that reads FACE BOOK ADS. There is a drop down box, select NO ONE. Then SAVE your changes. (REPOST to let your friends know!)”

The question: is it true or not that Facebook has agreed to let third parties use users’ posted photos for ads without the users’ permission? Regardless, for those that are concerned about their privacy settings on Facebook, taking the above steps are probably not a bad idea to start. As for Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines current to March 4, 2009, they say nothing about allowing third parties to take users’ posted photos without the user’s consent. Facebook’s own Terms arguably do not appear to provide for this kind of third party taking either. In fact, the Facebook Terms expressly state that “We do not give your content to advertisers.”

If you believe some of what is being written online, one explanation is that the user photos were “scraped” while accessing Facebook applications by a third-party advertising network, and that this activity likely violated Facebook’s terms of service. According to another site,, Facebook representative David Swain confirmed this explanation, and that as a result of this activity, Facebook has disabled two ad networks. Swain, as quoted on, explains:

These ads are not from Facebook but we are concerned about any potential threat to our users’ experience. We recently had deceptive ads removed from a number of apps and prohibited two entire advertising networks from providing services to applications on Facebook Platform because they were not compliant with our policies and failed to correct their advertising practices.”

On one hand, if true, it is nice to know that Facebook isn’t blatantly violating its own terms of service. On the other hand, it gives users little comfort to be reminded that the Facebook platform provides a way for applications to bypass the user’s settings or intentions regarding access to their photos and personal information, by having users open the door to these advertisers when they add third party applications. None of this is really news to those who have been following the issues with Facebook third party applications, or the recent Privacy Commissioner of Canada report on Facebook’s privacy practices. Facebook’s grading? Needs improvement.


  1. Jeanette,

    Thanks for the link. I think you misunderstood my article though. The images are not being “scraped”, they are just being referenced every time a person loads a page. If you avoid applications, those ad networks won’t collect data about you but everytime you load an application page, that app and the ad networks running on that app can view who all of your friends are.