January 20, 2014

Facebook has announced a number of major changes to its website, including the removal of its infamous 'Sponsored Stories' ads. Along with other sweeping reforms in its Developer Roadmap, the changes in advertisements are expected to go into effect on April 9th, 2014.

These announcements come at a time when Facebook is facing increasing scrutiny over user privacy. Facebook recently settled a class action lawsuit alleging that the Sponsored Stories ads were an invasion of privacy. Facebook ultimately agreed to pay a total of $20 million to settle the suit.

The Sponsored Stories ads program started in 2011, garnering little attention at the time. Many users were later taken by surprise when their photos showed up in ads promoting one product or another. While some users did not mind, Facebook did not properly obtain their permission to use the photos.

Another complicating factor involving the ads was that many of the users featured in the Sponsored Stories were minors – who are protected by more stringent privacy regulations than adults.

While Facebook has officially announced the withdrawal of the Sponsored Stories ads, this doesn't necessarily mean that users can feel any more secure in their privacy. Facebook recently changed its privacy policy to now state that all users' data is public, meaning that photos, 'likes' and other information can be used in ads without prior consent.

According to Facebook, "[S]ocial context — stories about social actions your friends have taken, such as liking a page or checking in to a restaurant — is now eligible to appear next to all ads shown to friends on Facebook."