EPIC says Facebook 'messed with people's minds,' seeks FTC sanctions
Privacy group files a complaint with the agency over emotional contagion study
IDG News Service - Facebook "purposefully messed with people's minds" in a "secretive and non-consensual" study on nearly 700,000 users whose emotions were intentionally manipulated when the company altered their news feeds for research purposes, a digital privacy rights group charges in a complaint filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the complaint Thursday, asking the FTC to impose sanctions on Facebook. The study violated terms of a 20-year consent decree that requires the social-networking company must protect its users' privacy, EPIC said. EPIC also wants Facebook to be forced to disclose the algorithms it uses to determine what appears in users' news feeds.
The complaint follows days of mounting outrage from privacy-rights advocates and Facebook users -- some of whom are quoted in the EPIC complaint -- after results of the study, published June 2 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, became widely known. Researchers from Facebook, the University of California, San Francisco and Cornell University conducted the study from Jan. 11 to Jan. 18, 2012, on 689,003 English-speaking Facebook users. The study was, however, for Facebook's internal purposes.
The research sought to show whether emotions can be influenced with no face-to-face contact by altering Facebook's algorithm to show mostly positive or negative posts. Scientists call that "emotional contagion." The study found that people whose news feeds contained more positive comments tended to make more positive comments and those who took in more negative posts were more bummed out in their own posts.
When news of the study emerged, researchers and eventually Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said that the research wasn't explained well by the company, though the apologies struck many as well short of an actual mea culpa.
PNAS editor-in-chief Inder M. Verna published an "editorial expression of concern" on Wednesday regarding the study, saying that researchers contend it was consistent with Facebook's data use policy so that when users sign up, they are giving "informed consent" that their data might be used in research. Because the research was conducted internally by Facebook, it did not fall under the auspices of Cornell's Human Research Protection Program, the statement says.
The statement further notes that as a private company Facebook is under no obligation to follow what is known as the "common rule" among researchers, to obtain informed consent from study participants and allow them to opt out if they don't want to be part of research.
"Based on the information provided by the authors, PNAS editors deemed it appropriate to publish the paper," Verma wrote. "It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out."
- Social Media in Technology: A Unified Strategy for Success Find out how social media is sparking a new era of customer and industry-understanding in technology enterprises and how industry leaders are overcoming...
- Mission Critical: Managing Mobile Applications & Content Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become embedded in enterprise processes, thanks to the consumerization of IT and a new generation of...
- Planning for Mobile Success Many organizations are seeing clear and quantifiable benefits from the deployment of mobile technologies that provide access to data and applications any time,...
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their... All Social Media White Papers | Webcasts