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By now we have all heard about the Facebook experiment. It is a psychological experiment that they have done in secret. Hundreds of thousands of Facebook users have been affected. Now the UK is conducting an inquiry into this experiment. The UK Data Protection Act prevents the misuse of citizens’ data. Regulators want to know if any of the Facebook experiment has violated any data protection principles.
The Facebook Experiment
The Facebook experiment involved making minor changes to users’ feeds. This was done to elicit emotions and record different responses. This type of research is not uncommon, but not usually done in secret. The news feeds of 689,003 Facebook users were altered for a period of one week in January 2012. Some users were shown more negative content while others got more positive content. The company was harshly criticized and defended the Facebook experiment. Representatives said that it served to improve the service. Research like this is done, they said, to serve relevant and engaging content.
Reactions to the Facebook experiment were very negative despite explanations. People do not like being used like guinea pigs, especially without their knowledge. And this Facebok experiment was not using any data that they have on hand from users’ posts. It deliberately manipulated people to generate new data for the Facebook experiment. It does not seem that what they did was illegal. It actually came out that this type of Facebook experiment is done all the time. This concerned people even more. The National Academy of Sciences published the full report.
UK Regulator Investigates
The Facebook experiment has piqued the interest of a regulator of the UK Data Protection Act. Facebook representatives said that the data used in the Facebook experiment was not connected to any particular user accounts. But the Information Commissioner wants to make sure that the Facebook experiment properly anonymized UK users’ data. Another concern is prior consent, which was, as far as we know, not given. The Facebook experiment was done in secret so no specific consent could be given. A review of Facebook policies would give the company rights over user data. But regulators are expecting a clear response to the issue that will reveal whether or not consent is an issue.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) have become popular tools for online privacy. But on websites like Facebook, these tools cannot provide comprehensive privacy protection. Users can anonymize their traffic with VPNs to protect their identities. But the Facebook experiment was direct manipulation of users on the website. People concerned with data manipulation may have no choice but to quit Facebook if the company does not comply with requests to stop similar Facebook experiments.
Facebook Study May Have Violated Principles Of Academic Research, Journal Says
Editorial Expression of Concern regarding “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”