Journal that published Facebook’s secret ‘contagion’ study questions Facebook’s ethics

A scientific journal that published the findings of a secret experiment loosed on 700,000 unsuspecting Facebook users to study their moods last year, but which came to light this week, has big problems with the way it was conducted.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, which said the study may have violated important ethics in the methodology of social and academic research.

The journal’s editor in chief Inder Verma told  the Guardian, “It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg offered an apology Wednesday, but some questioned it as too little, too late.

The emergence of the secret study triggered a firestorm of criticism around the globe. And it was disclosed Thursday that British privacy regulators are now investigating the secret study in which Facebook researchers injected disconsolate information into user’s news feeds to see if it made them sad.

Facebook did not return multiple calls for comment.

The bigger question perhaps is whether Facebook has any similar such studies in its pipeline. At least that’s the question Dr. Andy Carle, an expert in computer human interaction, has. He said at the very least Facebook should have notified the subjects in question that they were being included in the study.

And he thinks more studies similar to the one revealed this week are already in the pipeline.

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

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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