A privacy watchdog group today filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission claiming that Facebook “purposefully messed with people’s minds” with its psychological research in 2012.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center charged that the research study — which manipulated the News Feeds of nearly 700,000 Facebook users to study their emotions — was a deceptive trade practice and violated an FTC privacy consent order. EPIC is seeking sanctions, including forcing Facebook to make public its News Feed algorithm.
“At the time of the experiment, Facebook did not state in the Data Use Policy that user data would be used for research purposes,” the complaint states. “Facebook also failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers. Moreover, at the time of the experiment, Facebook was subject to a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission which required the company to obtain users’ affirmative express consent prior to sharing user information with third parties.”
Facebook is operating under a FTC consent decree over privacy issues. The order took effect in August 2012, after the research was conducted, but Facebook agreed to a settlement in November 2011.
The Facebook research, conducted for about a week in January 2012 with researchers from Cornell and the University of California, altered the News Feeds of a random sample of 689,003 users to study how emotional content affected user behavior on social media. The study found that people exposed to positive emotional content were more apt to post positive posts and people exposed to more negativity were more apt to be more negative in their own posts.