Facebook’s mood-manipulation experiment under investigation in the U.K.

Image Credit: Franco Bouly

Updated July 3 with context from VentureBeat’s Richard Byrne Reilly.

Facebook faces a government probe in the U.K. after secretly experimenting with the moods of 700,000 users, the Financial Times reports.

Led by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a government organization that promotes “data privacy for individuals,” the investigation was prompted by “widespread outrage” over Facebook’s mood experiment. Facebook and the ICO did not respond to VentureBeat’s request for comment on the matter.

A prominent computer scientist who specializes in computer human interaction, Dr. Andy Carle, told VentureBeat Wednesday that, in his view, the study, in which users saw their news feeds infused with negative information to see how they would react, was highly unethical and violated norms associated with human research studies.

Carle said he believes Facebook is conducting more such social experiments without the consent of subjects.

“I have no doubt they will continue with these studies,” he said. “This worries me, the culture of user research at Facebook. At the very least they should have been notified. The question is, what else are Facebook doing now?”

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer tells VentureBeat that the research was intended to “investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out.” As we reported on Sunday, Kramer said Facebook also wanted to know about user’s reactions to negative content. “We were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook,” Kramer told us.

At the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday, Facebook’s Global Head of Policy, Monika Bickert, said Facebook’s emotional contagion experiments were about promoting innovation, as we reported earlier.

“I believe that was a week’s worth of research back in 2012,” Bickert said. “And most of the research that is done on Facebook, if you walk around campus and you listen to the engineers talking, it’s all about ‘how do we make this product better,’ ‘how do we better suit the needs of the population using this product,’ and ‘how do we show them more of what they want to see and less of what they don’t want to see,’ and that’s innovation.”

According to FT, an ICO regulator said the organization “would also be in contact with the Irish data protection body, because Facebook has its European headquarters in Dublin.

Via: Business Insider.

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

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3 comments
J Fitzpatrick Sullivan
J Fitzpatrick Sullivan

Is this why my News Feed always defaulted back to Top Stories even though I switched it to Most Recent every single time? That was a hassle, and I expect to be included and compensated for those wasted clicks and time in the inevitable class action suit.