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Facebook’s detested “sponsored stories” finally have an expiration date.

In a list of changes to its Ads API published Thursday, the social network giant said it plans to “sunset” sponsored stories on April 9. But that doesn’t mean future ads won’t have social context.

“Page post and page like ads already automatically have the best social context (likes and comments) added,” noted Facebook in its platform roadmap for developers.

Facebook understands the value of word-of-mouth marketing — even when it’s a mouse click doing the talking. There’s money to be made if you “like” the Starbucks page.

In other words, while the sponsored stories ad unit will disappear, the idea remains intact.

But the social network is treading carefully following a 2011 class action lawsuit it faced over sponsored stories, which accused the company of violating user privacy with its ad practices. The lawsuit eventually led to a $20 million settlement, but it also compelled Facebook to add opt-out features for sponsored stories, which is estimated to have cost Facebook more than $100 million in lost revenue.

“Our social advertising honors the audience that people choose, so nobody will see information in social context for an ad that they couldn’t already see,” a Facebook representative said in a statement today.

Still, don’t be surprised when you hear that Tanya and Joe like Dunkin’ Donuts, day after day — unless you decide to block Facebook ads entirely.

Hat tip: AllFacebook

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