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Facebook May Face a Criminal Investigation in the UK Over Its Unauthorized Psychological Experiments

Did Facebook go too far when it allowed its users to be the subjects of a psychological experiment without their knowledge?

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Facebook Annouces A New Product


The fallout from revelations that Facebook had conducted a psychological experiment involving 689, 003 users in a secret experiment without first informing any of them continues.

British officials are making good on threats to conduct an investigation into Facebook’s activities to determine if any criminal actions had been committed by the world’s largest social networking site. There are also calls for tighter regulations in that country to protect its citizens who use websites like Facebook.

A spokesman for the office of the UK’s Information Commissioner told the British website TheRegister, “We’re aware of this issue, and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances.”

The Irish Data Protection regulator told the website, “The Office of the Data Protection in Ireland has been in contact with Facebook in relation to the privacy issues, including consent, of this research. We are awaiting a comprehensive response on issues raised.”

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg expressed her personal regrets for the study while not making a formal apology on Wednesday while visiting New Delhi.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you, ” she said.

In an interview with the Indian news network NDTV, Sandberg also said, “This was one week and it was a small experiment. It has been communicated as an experience to shift emotions, it’s not exactly what it was. It was an experiment in showing people different things to see — to see how it worked. Again, what really matters here is that we take people’s privacy incredibly seriously and we will continue to do that.”

Sheryl Sandberg


The scandal erupted when the world first found out that Facebook had cooperated in a study conducted by researchers from the University of California and Cornell University in which the company placed either positive or negative information on a person’s home page to elicit concurring emotional responses. This process is known as “emotional contagion.” The study was published on June 17th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but only noticed this past weekend.

Also, academics have charged that such agreements do not constitute the informed
Consent that professional ethics require researchers receive from anyone who participates in a study.

Facebook has defended its actions by citing that all of its users first sign an agreement which grants the company authority to such research. But people complain that the agreements that company’s like Facebook require them to sign are too long and filled with complicated terminology for anyone to really have the time to read or even understand. Some have pointed out that it could take weeks for the average person to read every single line of text in Facebook’s agreements and policy declaration pages.

Now Forbes is reporting that Facebook engaged in an after the fact update of data user policy. Only after the study was completed did the website add to its policy page that it would use a person’s information, “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Before this change the policy did not state anything about using members or their personal information for the purposes of research.

A Facebook spokesperson said, “When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer. 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 or not their privacy policy uses the word ‘research’ or not.”




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