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MySpace changes terms of use to combat app scams

By Caroline McCarthy
November 3, 2009

In the wake of a firestorm over just how much of social-gaming companies' profits can be attributed to potentially scammy offers and incentives, News Corp.'s MySpace has taken a stand (and, it could be said, taken advantage of the PR opportunity) by coming out vocally against them.

"We're adding a fifth principle (to our developer terms of use) that clarifies a specific use case that we feel is particularly damaging to the user experience: promotions that include hidden renewals without specific opt-in will not be permitted," a company blog post by CEO Owen Van Natta read. "Because it's our belief opt-out offers are misleading and do not have the best interests of the users in mind, we will be updating our Terms of Use this week to better clarify this for users and developers."

What exactly is he referring to? In many of the most popular (and profitable) games built for big social-networking platforms like Facebook and MySpace, players can progress faster in the game by either buying virtual goods with "real" money, or by completing offers and surveys from a partner company like the prominent Offerpal Media. Critics say that many of these offers aren't actually free, and unwittingly can sign users up for expensive subscriptions or programs.

After a public confrontation between TechCrunch's Michael Arrington and Offerpal CEO Anu Shukla at last week's Virtual Goods Summit event in San Francisco, game makers like Zynga and RockYou put out statements saying that they're cracking down on offers that are potentially misleading.

Could this lead to real industry changes? Yes. But keep in mind that Facebook, the biggest destination for these social games, already bans this stuff in theory. "Ads cannot be deceptive or fraudulent about any offer made," the company's advertising guidelines read, and adds "if an ad includes a price, discount, or 'free' offer...the destination URL for the ad must link to a page that clearly and accurately offers the exact deal the ad has displayed (and) the ad must clearly state what action or set of actions is required to qualify for the offer."

But judging by the amount of sketchiness that allegedly takes place on the platform, it seems like advertisers aren't necessarily following these guidelines. Whether MySpace's stance against them can lead to a legitimate crackdown has yet to be seen.

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