Facebook emotional manipulation test turns users into 'lab rats'

Anger grows even as Facebook researcher posts apology for causing users anxiety

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"This creeped me out when I heard about what Facebook is doing to their users, their customers," Kagan said. "Facebook just sees this as an interesting experiment, but this is another case where they cross way over the line. Companies often battle to protect the privacy of their users from other companies. However, Facebook seems to be abusing their own customers themselves. This is inexcusable."

This is far from the first time Facebook has been found to be engaging in questionable practices regarding privacy. But past incidents have not resulted in users leaving the social networking site in large numbers. That means Facebook has little incentive to stop making these kinds of moves.

"In the old days, customers would simply leave and punish Facebook," Kagan said. "However today, customers don't leave, so Facebook continues going down this same path with no self-control. How can a company that is supposed to value its customers abuse them so badly?"

The study's authors contend that users accept Facebook's right to manipulate their News Feeds when they click on the site's terms and conditions of use.

But that argument doesn't fly for Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. He said he's troubled with the company's decision to purposefully try to make people sad in the name of research.

"That was the goal of the study, and that sadness does represent harm," Enderle said. "I'd anticipate one or more class-action lawsuits."

Kagan noted that Facebook's social experiment could easily invite various governments to launch investigations.

"I don't think Facebook will show self-control until they are forced to, one way or another," he said. "I can see how governments in every country where Facebook operates may step in. When they do, it will be an expensive lesson for the company."

This article, "Facebook Emotional Manipulation Test Turns Users Into 'Lab Rats'," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter, at @sgaudin, and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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