Security

Privacy watchdog EPIC says Facebook ‘messed with people’s minds,’ files FTC complaint

Image Credit: Mario Lope via Shutterstock

Last Thursday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Facebook’s emotional contagion study.

The privacy center says that the psychological study fails to comply with an FTC consent order from 2012 and violates section 5 of the Federal Communications Trade Act.

“The company purposefully messed with people’s minds,” says the EPIC complaint.

Facebook conducted a study back in 2012 wherein it altered the Facebook news feeds of nearly 700,000 users to see how they would react to viewing a series of positive or negative posts. The results were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at Cornell University and University of California, San Francisco.

The major concern from privacy advocates, researchers, and EPIC, is that Facebook did not get consent for the experiment from its users. Not only that, but it backtracked and added a clause to its Data Use Policy after it had already conducted the study, to say that by using Facebook you’re automatically consenting to having your data used in studies.

This wouldn’t be the first time the FTC reviews Facebook’s privacy practices. In 2011 the government agency said Facebook failed to honor the privacy of its users by telling them their information was private and then repeatedly making it public. The FTC issued a 20 year decree barring Facebook, “from making any further deceptive privacy claims, requires that the company get consumers’ approval before it changes the way it shares their data, and requires that it obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent, third-party auditors.”

The conditions of the Facebook study do seem rather “deceptive,” which would give the FTC cause to investigate the complaint further. EPIC is asking that the FTC have Facebook make its News Feed algorithm public. As of this writing, the FTC has not returned VentureBeat’s request for comment.

More about the companies and people from this article:

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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10 comments
Thomas Chenhall
Thomas Chenhall

Fuck, someone could have killed themselves over it after loosing a friend for life that they may had seen again, had not Facebook become a surrogate reality obstructing the reality of said parties friendships. It's all an experiment, whether or not some Face-heads say some small part of it was an experiment.

Joshua Darlington
Joshua Darlington

"No different than offices painting walls a certain color to tone mood of office setting." ... "like" button is the sort of lobotomizing agitation that matches scientifically antagonistic work places. Facebooks experiment was in tormenting random strangers to down regulate their emotions which is dangerous because of the broader sample of mental health of the general public which includes more extremes of mental illness than functional office drones.

Milo O'Gorman
Milo O'Gorman

Yeah... maybe Mizz Sheryl Sandbergs... when she had to publicly apologize... I'd say that messed with her mind (read: her arrogance) alright; having to apologize to the great unwashed... *smirk*

Alex Redman
Alex Redman

i think people's minds are already messed and facebook is doing no different than anyone USING facebook

Dima Urban
Dima Urban

inb4 "fb ruined my relationship with their experiment" tv specials

bobby Roper
bobby Roper

I think Facebook is just trying to stay in the news lately, the see the writing on the wall, that all the younger kids are moving on and people are staying away from social media more after all the NSA information. That why I think they keep coming out with these story's every week. Try the non tracking leave my life alone NSA  search engine for you privacy http://LookSeek.com good luck.

Robert V. Nava
Robert V. Nava

No different than offices painting walls a certain color to tone mood of office setting.

Richard Kerr
Richard Kerr

falls right in there with the subliminal messages stuff that they banned from TV a long time ago.

Steven Edward Streight
Steven Edward Streight

If putting more negative or positive content from others into a person's news feed can control their own mood, that person needs to get outside with the dirt and trees and spend less time on Facebook. This reminds me of the Facebook mental illnesses Relentless Selfies and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).