UK regulator probes Facebook emotion manipulation study

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Facebook is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the United Kingdom for violating of data collection laws when it conducted a user study in 2012, reported the Financial Times.

During the study, Facebook reportedly manipulated the News Feed content of almost 700,000 users, showing some users fewer positive terms while showing others fewer negative terms.

When published, the study raised privacy concerns because the users were not informed that they were being used as test subjects.

Although the ICO is still not certain whether Facebook actually violated any law, the data regulator plans to contact the data protection group of Ireland, where Facebook’s European headquarters are based.

The report noted that the IOC can force organisations to alter their policies as well as levy fines of up to £500,00.

While the monetary penalty will not affect Facebook, which reported revenue of US$2.5 billion last quarter, the fine will be symbolic.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback.”

The spokesperson also explained that the study was made with “appropriate protections for people’s information” and that the company is willing to answer questions put forth by regulators.

Meanwhile, privacy experts in the United States believe that Facebook probably did not violate any laws.

Facebook’s Data Use Policy reportedly includes data analysis, testing, and research as potential ways that Facebook can use its members’ data. However, Forbes reported that Facebook added the line about testing and research four months after it conducted the emotion manipulation study.


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