Paul Sakuma/ap file photoFacebook is pushing for higher pay for its janitors

Paul Sakuma/ap file photoFacebook is pushing for higher pay for its janitors

UK investigating Facebook over psych experiment

British data protection authorities are investigating revelations that Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on its users.

The Information Commissioner's Office said in a statement Wednesday that it wants to learn more about the circumstances of the experiment carried out by two U.S. universities and the social network.

The commissioner's office is working with authorities in Ireland, where Facebook has headquarters for its European operations. French authorities are also reviewing the matter.

The researchers manipulated the news feeds of about 700,000 randomly selected users to study the impact of “emotional contagion,” or how emotional states are transferred to others. The researchers said the evidence showed that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people and “in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.”

Facebook acknowledged that the research was done for a single week in 2012.

The survey provoked an outcry on social media sites and sparked essays in media outlets including the New York Times and The Atlantic about how ethical it is to manipulate users' feeds without their consent.

“It's clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it,” the company said in a statement. “We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people's information.”

Facebook's data use policy says the company can use user information for, “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

The concern over the experiment comes amid interest in Europe about beefing up data protection rules. The European Court of Justice last month ruled that Google must respond to users' requests seeking to remove links to personal information.

Suzy Moat, a Warwick Business School assistant professor of behavioral science, said businesses regularly do studies on how to influence behavior. She cited the example of Facebook and Amazon experimenting with showing different groups of people slightly different versions of their websites to see if one is better than another at getting customers to buy products.

“On the other hand, it's extremely understandable that many people are upset that their behavior may have been manipulated for purely scientific purposes without their consent,” Moat said. “In particular, Facebook's user base is so wide that everyone wonders if they were in the experiment.”

businessFacebookGreat BritainScience & TechnologyUnited Kingdom

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Cities including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley are calling for large grocery and drug store chains to pay employees hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)
SF proposes $5 hazard pay law for grocery, drug store workers

San Francisco may soon join the growing number of cities requiring large… Continue reading

Hikers walk along a closed stretch of Twin Peaks Boulevard on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board to vote on future of Twin Peaks Boulevard

The proposal would keep Burnett Avenue gate closed to vehicles, open Portola Drive

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Klein collects crayons from students in the classroom at Lupine Hill Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in Calabasas, California. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Newsom, legislators strike deal to reopen California schools

Taryn Luna and John Myers Los Angeles Times Gov. Gavin Newsom and… Continue reading

A sign about proposed development of the bluff at Thornton State Beach in Daly City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Retreat center proposed at popular state beach

Daly City residents oppose construction on ocean bluffs

City supervisors are calling for an expansion of free summer programs for elementary age kids. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supervisors urge city to provide free summer programs for all SFUSD students

San Francisco supervisors on Monday announced a proposal to expand summer programs… Continue reading

Most Read