Facebook is facing British probe over its mood experiment. British authorities said Wednesday that they will investigate Facebook over an experiment in which they manipulated user’s feelings. Facebook has apologized for handling this row poorly.
It the experiment, Facebook gave some users happier news and others sadder news in order to better understand “emotional contagion”.
The researchers wanted to find out whether the users would post positive or negative content after a reading number of positive or negative words in the messages they received.
Facebook did not seek consent from users, claiming instead that its terms of service contract with users allow blanket research.
You might be a victim of this experiment without your knowledge! In 2012, Facebook altered the emotional content of news feeds of about 700,000 users for a whole week without their knowledge. They did this in order to test whether it altered their moods.
This news came as a surprise to many users, forcing the Britain’s independent data watchdog to step in with the Information Commissioner’s Office saying it was now looking into the case.
“We’re aware of this issue and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances,” a spokesman said.
Facebook has 1.2 billion users and is the most popular social networking site in the world. It has its European headquarters in Dublin.
As the row raged on, Sheryl Sandberg Facebook’s chief operating officer admitted on Wednesday during a visit to India that the company had communicated badly on the experiment. “This was communicated terribly and for that communication we have apologized. We communicated really badly on this subject,” she said. “We take privacy at Facebook really seriously,” She added.
Sandberg was in India to promote her gender equality book titled “Lean In”. She gave a more general assurance about Facebook’s cooperation in this matter. “We work very closely with the regulators all over the world… we are fully compliant (with regulations). We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback,” She said.
“The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have,” she added.
She however declined to respond to reporters who were asking further questions about the experiment.
The experiment was conducted by Cornell University, the University of California at San Francisco in the United States, and researchers affiliated with Facebook.
The researchers found that the emotions that others express on Facebook have influence on our own emotions. They also noted that emotion was relevant to human health.
Users felt betrayed and questioned the ethics of the study with some terming it as “creepy”, “evil” and “super disturbing”.
Facebook said the company was “happy” to answer the British regulator’s questions.“It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it,” a Facebook spokesman said by email.
Users are now waiting to see what will come out of this probe.