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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.


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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.

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