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Facebook takes heat for secret study; Sheryl Sandberg apologizes

Above: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

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We’re sorry.

That was the response of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, who for the first time publicly addressed the raging firestorm about the secret study conducted on 700,000 unknowing users by injecting their feeds with negative information to see if it made them feel, like, sad.

At a meeting in India with potential advertisers, Sandberg, Facebook’s very public chief operating officer, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying:

“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.”

Incredibly, the results of the study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Facebook did not tell the 700,000 hapless guinea pigs that they were in the study, which tabulated the emotional reactions of some users who became sad and emotionally isolated when presented with dubious interjections on their news feeds.

Dr. Andy Carle blasted Facebook's secret study

Above: Dr. Andy Carle blasted Facebook’s secret study

Image Credit: Dr. Andy Carle

Sandberg’s apology follows on the heels of one of the study’s researchers, Adam D.I. Kramer, who posted his missive on a Facebook blog on Monday. The research team said they wanted everybody using the social media site to enjoy the experience. Kramer’s opening to the post read:

“The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone.”

Just as Sandberg was explaining herself, others in the techsphere were shredding the social-media experiment as highly unethical and more than questionable. Computer scientist Dr. Andy Carle, 31, an expert in computer human interaction, blasted the report and went one further: He believes Facebook has more such anonymous studies in their pipeline.

Facebook did not get back to VentureBeat by press time.

At the very least, Carle said, those involved in the study should have been notified. He also pointed out that, in his opinion, Facebook didn’t itself know the names of those being targeted in what some have called a virtual dragnet. The study could have negative consequences, he said, for those who were left feeling bummed.

Carle pointed out had the study been undertaken in Western Europe, it would likely have invited lawsuits at the very least because privacy laws in some countries there are way more stringent than in the States.

“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?

“There is a code of conduct in doing this kind of work. But Facebook wasn’t holding themselves to this kind of conduct.”

“This worries me. The culture of user research at Facebook

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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31 comments
Khoo Chen Shiang
Khoo Chen Shiang

Hey if we run "Say No to Facebook for 24 hours", say at 15th-July/2014, just to teach them a lesson, how many of u will support this initiative?

Susana Benavidez
Susana Benavidez

How about those who are offended delete their accounts to show how offended they truly are...

Frank Galea
Frank Galea

May all the tinfoil hat government haters please wake up and see how creepy corporations can be.

Raymond Gao
Raymond Gao

Was NSA ever informed of this & threat on national security?

Vero Tabares
Vero Tabares

You probably haven't read their terms of use.

John Hoffman
John Hoffman

I think FB is just trying to stay in the news, the competition is getting a lot bigger for them.  I agree NSA=G=Fb . Try http://LookSeek.com the non tracking leave me alone search engine.

dpb 7sm
dpb 7sm

FB = GOGL = NSA.


Anything else you need to know?

Kip Tran
Kip Tran

insincerity suits your face

Caleb Jones
Caleb Jones

They're not sorry they ran the experiment. They're sorry they were caught. It's like the bully on the playground when the teacher makes them apologize - "I'm sorry if beating you up caused you to be sad and upset, I meant for you to enjoy my torment."

Masthan Sheik
Masthan Sheik

You have no problem being manipulated ? Alright we aren't okay with it. She apologizes for not communicating it properly and not for what they were caught doing. The PR agency they hired did a good job on projecting the headlines as being sorry for what they were caught doing.

Mark A. Rojas
Mark A. Rojas

Right?! Truly operating from the adage of..."ask for forgiveness not for permission".

Phillip Jackson
Phillip Jackson

much ado about nothing really. Facebook is a solid part of the new paradigm. It is as simple as that. Big data is the new frontier in research approaches and Facebook is the goldmine for this. Get accustomed to this.

Ajay Desai
Ajay Desai

She leannnned into that one didn't she?

Babar 賈韋
Babar 賈韋

its kind of like when Obama orders the US military to carpet an entire village just to kill two terrorists and then looks at the reports of murdered babies while saying "sorry" with a dead tone. Democracy is fun.

Justin Berenbaum
Justin Berenbaum

How about we sue you for purposely inflicting emotional duress on humans with providing informed consent

Steven Adler
Steven Adler

they are only sorry because they got caught

Fdl Lcr
Fdl Lcr

She was acting "bossy" ; ) lol

Milo O'Gorman
Milo O'Gorman

"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.” Er... hangonaminute... So... the 'experiment' you indulged in to 'test' emotional reaction... 'wasn't' meant to upset us? Er... I mean... you mean to say... that you conducted this research with intention to yield results even though ultimately the methods employed weren't meant to yield... er... No... hang on... I get it now... You mean... *Newsflash: "Sheryl Sandberg apologizes" So... your own emotions are unsettled Mizz Sandberg ?... You got at least one result then! ;-)

Chuck O'Neil Gerrish
Chuck O'Neil Gerrish

Anybody who takes these two seriously, needs their heads examined. Both have shown to be untrustworthy, callous and disdainful of peoples privacy concerns from Day 1. They have a thorough and complete disregard for their customer base. Sandberg is load, and a ghoul..she is apologizing for getting caught, and nothing more.

Paul Vance
Paul Vance

So your mad at FB for trying to make there "FREE" product more appealing?! just like every product for the last 60yrs.... do you even know what your saying?!

Brian  Linville
Brian Linville

A for profit company did something that will make them money. Wow, that's so awful

Tony King
Tony King

Because this pair of f***s will monetise it? They're only sorry because it became public knowledge.

Paul Vance
Paul Vance

Wha Wha "I'm offended at something that happened 2 yrs ago that affecting 0.023% of FB users that I knew nothing about" bunch of pissy little bitches, they don't need to apologize, its Called A/B testing EVERY WEBSITE HAS DONE IT FOR THE LAST 10 YRS! why aren't people excited and positive about innovation?!

YakapAral YA
YakapAral YA

No you really aren't. You got away with what you wanted and we were violated. How can you be sorry ?? Not like you're gonna delete the data you collected.

Elidet Bordon
Elidet Bordon

I guess it is true, it is better to ask for forgiveness instead of permission!

Jason Jersey
Jason Jersey

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg should both step down