An experiment Facebook conducted with some of its users two years ago has been getting a lot of negative attention in recent days after a paper about it was published. The company basically took about 700,000 users, and tested the effects of showing them more positive or more negative posts in their News Feeds. The goal was to see how it affected users' emotions (or at least the emotions conveyed in their own posts).
Facebook has language in its terms of service, which indicate that it can use info for its own internal research, but it has come to light that this language was actually added after the test was conducted. Some people are outraged, and are calling Facebook's practices unethical.
Consumer Watchdog has publicly attacked the company (though this is pretty standard), and now regulators are taking a look at the situation.
The Financial Times reports (registration required) that the Information Commissioner's Office in the UK is now investigating the company, and that it said it's too early to tell what part of the law the company may have broken (if any). According to the report, the ICO has the power to force a company to change its policies and levy fines of up to £500,000.
Additionally, as Bloomberg reports, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's office has been in contact with the company, which is important to note as Facebook's European headquarters are located in Ireland. That report includes a statement from a Facebook UK spokesperson:
“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”
Facebook’s Adam Kramer, who co-authored the study, previously offered an explanation in a Facebook post. COO Sheryl Sandberg also reportedly said that the company did a poor job of communicating about it.
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