When Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) recently conducted a psychological experiment where they altered the news feed content of certain users, making some news feeds appear more positive while some appeared more negative, did this violate the law? As social media becomes more of a method for readers to access news, is it appropriate for the network provider to change the news content without telling those involved? Now a UK data regulator is investigating if Facebook violated data protection law when it allowed researchers to conduct the experiment.
Facebook investigated after widespread outage
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office revealed that it was investigating the experiment after widespread outrage. A spokesperson for the ICO told the Financial Times it was too early to tell exactly what part of the law Facebook may have infringed, but the organization has the power to force organizations to change their policies and levy fines of up to £500,000.
The interest in Facebook’s experiment, which found some impact after changing the news feed, comes on the heels of the European Union attempting to tighten privacy and data protection rules. A recent ruling, for instance, forced Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) to allow people to apply to have outdated entries about themselves removed from the search engine’s rankings, as previously reported in ValueWalk.
Facebook users shown positive stories in news feed
The week-long Facebook study in 2012 involved over 689,000 Facebook users and found that if they were shown fewer positive stories in the news feed, they were more like to post negative updates, and were more positive when the updates were positive. Adam Kramer, a researcher on the project, has apologized and said in hindsight the research benefits of the paper, which may not have justified “all of this anxiety,” the FT report noted.
“The goal of all 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,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.”