Facebook Global Policy Head Defends Controversial Experiment

By: Chris Crum - July 3, 2014

Another Facebooker has spoken publicly about the controversial emotion experiment the company conducted without user consent in 2012.

The company’s global policy management head, Monkia Bickert, spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and had this to say when asked about it and potential legislation:

The tension between legislation and innovation…It is, in this specific incident that you’re referring to, although I’m not really the best expert in…probably our public statements are the best source for information there, I believe that was a week’s worth of research back in 2012, and most of the research that is done on Facebook…if you walk around on campus, and you listen to the engineers talking, it’s all about how do we make this product better? How do we better suit the needs of the population using this product, and how do we show them more of what they want to see and less of what they don’t want to see? And that’s innovation. That’s the reason that when you look at Facebook or YouTube, you’re always seeing new features, and that’s the reason that if you’ve got that one annoying friend from high school, who always posts photos of her toddler every single day, that’s the reason you don’t see all of those photos in your News Feed.

She went on to say say that it’s concerning to see legislation that could stifle creativity and innovation, and that Facebook needs to make sure it’s transparent about what it’s doing to make sure we don’t see such legislation.

Similarly, COO Sheryl Sandberg said this week that the company poorly communicated what it was doing with the research.

Via AllFacebook

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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  • NastyASsUr

    But you did a very good job at communicating the research and involvement of UCSF, which they have since then denied any involvement what so ever! This “head” is worth millions because of the Facebook company, do you think she’s really going to stand behind its users on this experiment? come on really?

  • Loki57

    To be fair, UCSF wasn’t involved per se. A Cornell post-Doc co-author had changed affiliation to be part of a different project at UCSF by the time the study was published. Violations of a 20 year FTC Consent Decree for past privacy abuses are another matter:

    http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cases/2011/11/111129facebookagree.pdf

    Looking to the actual consent decree, it appears there’s no violation of
    the covered information disclosure, but there is a violation of the express opt-in terms, that expressly reject TOS boilerplate as constituting consent, that is required for broader uses of nonspecific private info.

    That makes discussion of the Facebook ToS change moot, as it does not constitute legally adequate notice under that consumer fraud legal mandate, based on past violations, beyond even HHS IRB rules and Cornell’s actions, or PNAS “Helsinki” rules and contract fraud by FB claiming compliance.

    Since corporations now have the religions of their primary stockholders (thanks Scalito & Co), obviously those individuals must be personally liable and culpable, and so Zuckerberg and every major Facebook principal will soon be in
    the hoosegow for contempt of court, and Facebook subject to FTC fines
    amounting to 10% of a year’s gross cash flow, plus be required to
    suspend operations briefly, say for the 18 months Z and friends
    experience their summer vacations. In some world….

    As I’ve speculated in earlier comments on related news of this, that does mean the recent actions are seen as more serious because of past history, and the legal situation and history leading to it.

    Z deserves a cell right next to Kevin Trudeau. I suspect they each have something to teach the other. {Hah!}

    Ooops, liars and idiots in Facebook management, who seem to have hoped no one would notice their 2008-2011 dealings. Thanks good folks at EPIC, for paying attention and acting:

    http://epic.org/2014/07/epic-challenges-facebooks-mani.html

    EPIC Challenges Facebook’s Manipulation of Users, Files FTC Complaint

    “EPIC has filed a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook’s manipulation of users’ News Feeds for psychological research. “The company purposefully messed with people’s minds,” states the EPIC complaint. EPIC has charged that the study violates a privacy consent order and is a deceptive trade practice. In 2012, Facebook subjected 700,000 users to an “emotional” test with the manipulation of News Feeds . Facebook did not get users’ permission to conduct this study or notify users that their data would be disclosed to researchers. In the complaint, EPIC explained that Facebook’s misuse of data is a deceptive practice subject to FTC enforcement. Facebook is also currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy. The consent decree resulted from complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010 . EPIC has asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm.”

  • Loki57

    As the screws turn, yet more info. This time, the CBC is reporting that Canada has launched an official investigation, and that France has joined Ireland and the UK to jointly probe potential illegal acts by Facebook.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/facebook-emotion-study-examined-by-privacy-commissioner-1.2695145

    That makes for at least 5 countries now where there’s evidence of illegal acts or probable cause to investigate for same, that have triggered official legal process.

    All those pesky privacy, contract and medical human subject study informed consent, and consumer fraud laws. It must be that Facebook just did poorly communicating why they’re above all that, and shouldn’t have their criminal practices stifled by pesky laws.

    How wise is it for Sandberg and Bickert to be used as spokemodels, playing the dumb blonde card, when this study was started amidst an FTC consumer fraud investigation while a draft settlement was pending, and published and information shared with 3rd parties at Cornell after specific legal terms holding that to be illegal were agreed to and signed off on by 3 Facebook lawyers?

    This could become a good model for other online businesses, where obscure, cryptic, TOS phrases of ambiguous meanings, cannot amount to serious or valid informed consent.