Facebook is being investigated by UK regulators over concerns that the social network may have infringed on data protection laws in the country. This is a follow-up to findings that the social network conducted experiments on some of its user base without prior permission.

The social network has come under a lot of flak after it was revealed last week that it conducted psychological experiments on nearly 700,000 users without their notice. The study modified the newsfeed algorithm to show overly positive or negative posts to users, with the intent of determining how these posts affected their status updates. The research revealed that users who were shown negative posts were inclined to post negative updates, and vice versa.

While the Facebook researcher responsible for the study has since stated that no user data has been compromised, there has been an upheaval from millions of users over privacy concerns.

It looks like the UK regulators share these concerns, as Britain's Information Commissioner Office and the Irish Data Protection Office are set to probe the social network's activities with regards to the research study. Since Facebook's European headquarters are based in Dublin, its policies in the region are governed by Ireland.

The regulators have mentioned that it was too early to determine what part of the law Facebook may have infringed, and that they were awaiting a full report from the company.

What are your thoughts on Facebook's newsfeed research? Do you think that the social network has been forthcoming in revealing its intentions behind the study?

Source: Financial Times; Via: Bloomberg


Reader comments

Facebook draws ire of UK regulators over secret news feed study


Yeah, not expecting your privacy to be violated on Facebook is like going to a porn site and not expecting to see naked people. If you're really THAT concerned about your privacy, Facebook is probably the LAST place you should be visiting. (And Google Plus as well.) This, along with Facebooks manipulation of news feeds has been known about for quite some time. I am on there and don't really care much what they do with the info I post there. If I did, I wouldn't be.

When you sign up for Facebook you practically waive your privacy rights. No data was compromised but these government bodies will spend a fortune on their "findings" so they can tell Facebook off and slap their wrists.

They had non-Facebook researchers (Cornell) reviewing the impact of the manipulation by reading the feeds of the 700,000 subjects.

Privacy rights, I get. However, there are strict rules against experimentation on human subjects. That, Facebook, doesn't get.

The world research community is up in arms. This is a very, very bad thing.

Allow me to introduce you to a little something from United States Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Justice, The Rights of Human Test Subjects: (Facebook's ToS does not cover this is any way, "consent to research" != informed consent.)

1. Voluntary, informed consent
2. Respect for persons: treated as autonomous agents
3. The right to end participation in research at any time
4. Right to safeguard integrity
5. Benefits should outweigh cost
6. Protection from physical, mental and emotional harm
7. Access to information regarding research
8. Protection of privacy and well-being



Too bad the US doesn't have any regulatory agencies anymore now that ex employees of the corporations run them all or most of them.

Best thing about the UK and Europe is their protection of their consumers and citizens with great regulatory system, and trying to keep corporations from ruling.

I think you're missing the point. The concern is not really over the posts being read but the fact that Facebook manipulated their news feeds and experimented on them without any notification whatsoever. They had no chance to make their own decision on whether they wanted to participate.

I understand the lack of privacy but what's scary is that this shows how willing they are to do things behind their users back. What else are they willing to do without telling anyone?

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"This is a follow-up to findings that the social network conducted experiments on some of its user base without prior permission." Its been stated so much that these permission were in the EULA and every user accepted it when they signed up. This investigation is already off to a bad start right there. How do you penalize a company for doing something their users already agreed to allow?

Exactly this. Editorially, AC is always quick to point out when people have butthurt over Google's practices with scanning emails to target ads and such that the onus is on the user, that they are getting all the Googly goodness for "free" in exchange for these practices which the users agreed to in the beginning. This is the same story with a facebook label on it. Somehow it always comes down to people with a tl;dr mindset crying over the company doing what they said they might in the EULA and privacy policies which the user was too damned lazy to read.

I think people are less concerned with the legality of what was done, and more concerned with the ethics. Modifying behavior is a bad idea - even if FB's intentions were benign.

What's particularly galling is that the experiment could have easily been done in an ethical manner. As I understand it, the way academics do it, is tell users that they are testing for x when they are in fact testing for y. Users would have known they were participating in an experiment without biasing the results of said experiment.

This story has got it backwards, when users were shown overly negative posts their own post were mostly of a negative tone and vice versa.

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>posts entire life on Facebook including photos and videos, and links cellphone number to it

>has privacy concerns

LOL ok.

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So by not actually changing any one's information (only filtering what you see in a feed) they may have infringed on 'data protection' laws? It is entertaining watching people get stirred into a frenzy through willful ignorance. I mean I COULD read an article and figure out what is really going on OR I could just read a headline and assume my firmly held beliefs are being confirmed! Blissful affirmation!! Time to turn on Fox News so I know who to be angry at next!

Gimme a break.
Advertisers do this all the time. Advertisement is all about secretly manipulating peoples emotions.
It is only because this was labelled a "scientific experiment" people get all butthurt.
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