Brian Molidor Brian Molidor is Editor at Social News Watch. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

A privacy watchdog is complaining to the FTC about Facebook’s “experiment”

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Here’s a surprise: Sheryl Sandberg’s non-apology for the experiment in which Facebook tweaked nearly 700,000 people’s News Feeds to determine the effect it might have on their emotions hasn’t stopped the condemnation of the study from privacy groups and the editor-in-chief of the journal that included the findings. EPIC, a privacy advocacy group, has filed an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to seek an investigation into the study. Meanwhile, the editor-in-chief of PNAS has published a statement in which she says that Facebook’s study might not have respected ethical standards. EPIC argues in its complaint that Facebook “purposefully messed with people’s minds” with an experiment made possible by the “secretive and non-consensual use of personal information.” The group alleges that this violates the FTC’s 2012 Consent Order with Facebook and Section 5 of the FTC Act. It requests that the FTC impose sanctions on Facebook and require it to “make public the algorithm by which it generates the News Feed” to repent for the alleged violations.

A privacy watchdog Thursday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Facebook’s 2012 news-feed study on emotions, saying the company didn’t have users’ consent. The Electronic Privacy Information Center said that at the time of the study, Facebook’s data-use policy didn’t state that people’s data would be used for research purposes, and that the company failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers. A furor erupted last weekend as the findings of the psychological experiment made their way through social-media circles. In the study, Facebook altered the news feeds of nearly 700,000 unwitting users to show more positive or negative posts. The study found that users who saw more positive content were more likely to write positive posts, and vice versa. In its complaint, the privacy group said Facebook “purposefully messed with people’s minds.” It asked the FTC to sanction Facebook, including forcing the company to make public the algorithm that controls what appears in people’s news feeds. Facebook, in a response to the complaint, said Thursday it has always asked its users for permission to use their data to improve the service. “When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer,” a spokesperson said. “To suggest we conducted any corporate research without permission is complete fiction. Companies that want to improve their services use the information their customers provide, whether their privacy policy uses the word ‘research’ or not.” A U.K. regulator that handles data protection has said it is looking into the experiment. A deputy regulator for data protection in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters, has said the country is also looking into the matter.

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Brian Molidor Brian Molidor is Editor at Social News Watch. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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