Facebook killing off one kind of ad that some users hated

A program pairing user activity with promotional content will disappear come April 9

Facebook is pulling the plug on a controversial advertising program that served ads to people based on the activity of their friends, such as "Likes" and check-ins.

On Thursday, the company said in its developers forum that it would be phasing out the ad type, which is called "sponsored stories," effective April 9. After that, advertisers will no longer be able to create such ads, the company said.

Facebook gave notice to its ad partners this week that the change would be taking place so they can make the necessary adjustments to their campaigns, the company explained in a separate blog post.

Facebook's sponsored stories added a form of social endorsement to ads. Or, at least, that was the idea. If you checked in at or Liked a restaurant chain, for example, your profile name or photo might be placed alongside an ad from that business in your friends' News Feeds.

However, the ads created legal troubles and headaches for Facebook, because some users objected to the use of their likenesses in connection with advertising. A 2011 class-action suit against Facebook argued that the feature violated the privacy of minors by not asking permission to use their likenesses for material gain.

That case was settled last year when a U.S. judge approved a US$20 million fund for Facebook to settle the suit. In a statement, a Facebook spokesman declined to comment on whether discontinuing sponsored stories changes that settlement.

Now Facebook seems to be saying that it can make do with any number of other ad units, and that the activity of its members can still appear next to those ads. "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," the company said.

People can adjust their Ads and Friends settings to limit when their activity is paired with ads shown to friends, the company said.

Facebook's decision to close the sponsored stories program also comes as the company seeks to streamline its ad offerings. Last year Facebook said it would be simplifying its ad creation process for marketers by reducing redundancies and in some cases eliminating ad components.

Facebook's troubles with its sponsored stories haven't stopped one of its competitors from having a go at basically the same product. In October, Google announced "shared endorsements," which feature its users in ads across its sites when those users recommend products or stores.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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