Privacy Watchdog Group Files Complaint Against Facebook: They “Messed With People’s Minds”

facebook-newsfeed-featuredA 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.

Facebook responded to today’s complaint with an emailed statement: “When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer. To suggest we conducted any corporate research without permission is complete fiction. Companies that want to improve their services use the information their customers provide, whether their privacy policy uses the word ‘research’ or not.”

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.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Facebook | Facebook: Privacy | Social Media Marketing | Top News

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About The Author: is Third Door Media's Social Media Correspondent, reporting on the latest news for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. He spent 24 years with the Los Angeles Times, serving as social media and reader engagement editor from 2010-2014. A graduate of UC Irvine and the University of Missouri journalism school, Beck started started his career at the Times as a sportswriter and copy editor. Follow Martin on Twitter (@MartinBeck), Facebook and/or Google+.

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  • Peter Cook

    I think we need to just get over this – I don’t mean to be blase and here are my reasons for saying so https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140703184026-253129-the-dark-side-of-social-media

  • zanne stevens

    You must be riding on the Socialism is Great scooter….crash and burn!!

  • Peter Cook

    Thank you – I must be

  • http://www.bowbeaver.com/ Bow Beaver Efficiency Calculat

    we need to educate facebook users to only post something useful. Im fed up with statuses full of negativity.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/joshlight/ Josh Light

    Interesting. I was wondering if someone was going to file a complaint about this. Facebook does have a great point though:

    “When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer. To suggest we conducted any corporate research without permission is complete fiction. Companies that want to improve their services use the information their customers provide, whether their privacy policy uses the word ‘research’ or not.”

    User feedback is essential. Besides…how could they resist doing massive studies with all the data at their finger tips?

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