Facebook draws ire of UK regulators over secret news feed study


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 positive updates, while users who were shown more positive content posted negative status updates.

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


I find it funny when people complain about their privacy being violated on a site developed specifically for posting everything about your personal life on the internet.

Something being free does not give it the right to override the right to privacy. American law may not protect its citizens, but British and European law does. So if Facebook want to operate in this jurisdiction, it needs to behave in a way that respects the rights of the end user.

Did you even read the terms condition before signing up for Facebook? Oh...i see u must be busy protecting your right to speak about rights...right?

Did Facebook read the terms and conditions of operating in the EU? UK regulators are checking them out, and will change them where appropriate, if necessary, according to the needs of its citizens.

The EU protects my rights. Their laws supercede any Facebook t&c's. I am glad of that!
So your argument is null and void.
If Facebook want to operate here, they need to adhere to our privacy laws.
By the way, we all benefit from having supranational bodies protecting core privacy. Without such institutions, companies will do exactly as they please.

Yes sponzerowl, and in America, informed consent, I'm doing my dissertation now and I had all the rules and regulations crammed down my throat so I never forget them. Remember, participant protection all stems from the Nuremberg laws which were conducted by a international panel. The Jews had no knowledge and look what came of that. Nazi Germany was a social icon,( especially before the politicking run made by Hitler), like Facebook is a social icon . However, Germany was led astray. I know this is a completely apples to oranges comparison, but you get the gist. Its all down to informed consent, period. After agreement to participate, the researcher can withhold information from one group to validly compare with another.

The experiment migh not have been mentioned specifically, but you do agree to let facebook use your data however they wish.

Anyway the way I see it: If you value privacy then you shouldn't be using a site like this in the first place. I don't.

That is the wrong way to think. Businesses shouldn't be able to just operate as they please. Facebook is the de facto social network....that alone does not give it any right to do as they wish within the EU. Frankly, I hope the EU slaps a fine on Facebook. It'll bring it to heel in the same way Google and Microsoft have been brought to heel over the years!
(Microsoft is a better company these days BECAUSE they protect our privacy. They still make money....)

If anything they should bring Apple "to heel". Everyone has to use micro usb slot for charging, yet apple can ignore that law. Microsoft is forced to sell Windows N and provide a browser choice window, yet apple can sell macs with iTunes and Safari pre-loaded. What is up with that? It seems like the EU is in bed with apple.

The EU operates in a way that is designed to stop market monopolies.
Microsoft destroyed Netscape and severely curtailed the browser market for more than a decade. With 90% market share, it just wasn't right to stifle competition.
Microsoft is now having to fight back. It's products are better because of it.
Apple's Mac OS is still a niche. Therefore, the Mac specific iTunes software is also a niche product. There is no monopoly issue.
We should be thanking the EU for making Microsoft a better and more innovative company. Anything to stop MS going back to the 90' and early 00's when its market share was so complete that it could release non standards compliant browsers and subpar OS's (ME/Vista!).

Well Facebook under its terms and conditions does now state that your data could be used “for internal operations including […] research”. However some do state that this clause was added 4 months after they had began the research. 

People on this post are arguing about privacy vs Facebook's ability to conduct secret tests. I'm sorry both those two things are not the same thing, and they should not be brought up as interchangeable in order to be "correct about your point" . They don't violate privacy by manipulating news feeds to show what they want. They are showing what you do or do not want to see.. But they aren't taking your secret information and sharing it or viewing it(relatively speaking).

But how can they manipulate the feed without actually reading it? The whole point of that experiment was to send negative feed to one group of people and positive to other group. They have to know the content to be able to know what is positive and what is negative. Whether it's a person reading it or software doesn't matter. So they are in fact taking your private information and reading it. And then they also take your response to draw conclusions.

This is precisely why I say that If you care about privacy you shouldn't even be on facebook. The whole point of it is to post your own personal information for everyone to see (which can and will be used by anyone however they wish... this reminds me once again about that whole story of some kid going to jail over posting a stupid comment on facebook, where any paranoid woman can see it. Should have used Skype instead huh?).

They are called words, and each word has a different connotation that also depends on its context. A machine can easily tell what each word means. But more important, if you don't like that even machines do that... Um you should not be on the internet but at all.. Because all companies with internet products do this. That's how they can shape products to the public's liking.
So I say again... I forgot what I originally said.. Lol

Oh yeah violation of privacy and manipulating news feeds are not exactly the same thing. If people make a lawsuit.. Don't use the privacy thing because it won't stand.. Use something more like.. Not credited institution.. Lol. Like... Fake doctors.

But that's my point. If you don't mind machines reading your posts, don't mind them selling your info to show you targeted ads, why are you suddenly upset about them using your info for an experiment?

The way I see it: You either are ok with your information being used, or you are not ok. If you are ok with your information being used, then what does it matter HOW is it used? If you are NOT ok with your information being used, then what are you doing on facebook in the first place?

I agree with your bit about being okay or not being okay. Actually I didn't get to finished your first response to me until just now lol. I basically repeated what you said.. And we agree on everything honestly But anhwho

My only point was that privacy violation and manipulation of news feeds are not the same thing. That's where we don't agree.
Sure Facebook could have read what anyone said to anyone. I'm not denying that, and we all know they do do it anyways. I just don't like people screaming (Privacy)violation when this problem isn't (privacy)violation. It's unaccredited experimentation.

I think that laws are laws for a reason and they should be followed. If they aren't there should be repercussions.

Holy hell wait till google does this. And actually does this, where facts can be shown that google did it.

EU THE great regulatory body which brought you the "ingenious" RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN....presents...too much for nothing!

I deleted my fb account today. They've become a very creepy organization. Playing mind games with your customers is not cool at all

Good luck with that! Many of the innovative apps also require Facebook login.
I tried deleting my FB account - my life is unfortunately just too connected with my friends on Facebook. I now just restrict my privacy, and almost never post anything on my wall (and certainly not anything that Facebook can use to target me with advertising).
AdBlock Plus also removes the majority of the sponsored ads. Facebook is as intrusive as you want it to be

Skimming the T&C's of FB, I noticed these points that may be relevant for this:

  1. Sharing Your Content and Information
    You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.
  2. If you are a resident of or have your principal place of business in the US or Canada, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook, Inc.  Otherwise, this Statement is an agreement between you and Facebook Ireland Limited
  3. You consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States.

 Yes, I read/skimmed the T and Cs

There's very little mention that the research was carried out with Cornell University and the University of California. Not sure who went to who for the research.

Doesn't really bother me, in fact the research wouldn't really of worked if people knew their feeds were being changed in the background.

Didn't the research prove that by reading other people's status', it can affect your status/emotion?

Omg I don't know why everyone is making a big deal out of this. Yea facebook messed with your news feed for a while. BFD! get over it...

So, they should just be able to manipulate what you see instead of what ALL your friends actually post and you're OK with that? If you don't mind a corporation trying to manipulate you then you're definitely part of the problem, and its only going to get worse if it continues unchecked. Today it's just toying with your news feed, but who's to say what they'll do tomorrow if everyone has your attitude about it? Just how far do we allow them to go before we say "enough"?

That's so fucking true, I mean, when the man let's someone control their life it's when the man stops being a man and becomes a robot.

Exactly right.  Zuckerburg aka Facebook changed the mission of what they said Facebook would be about when the company was started as well as when it was growing. They talked so much about protecting privacy and was quick to jump in whenever identities were trampled. Now they do nothing and it is a sick society that is a breeding ground for experiments on the values and morals of people. I hope the EU puts the hammer down.

The issue is one of trust.
People who don't have a issue with being manipulated and going as far as to make excuses for any company that does so,if a friggin moron.
All people have a basic right to the truth,and for a company to breech that trust purposely without consent of those using it's services or products is a violation of those persons civil rights.
Just because you give consent to use your data,does not give a company the right to modify what you see,because the expectation of a individual is the true responses one would normally received,wither asking a question,or getting a response.
Facebook violated this trust by giving false responses or answers in their"social experiment" and did so without the express permission of it's user base to alter the truth,and if people were intelligent about this,not only should they demand compensation through a civil lawsuit,because of this violation of trust and for irreparable mental harm it has caused. All data of all subscribers should be immediately removed from any server ,and the company shut down.

Fuck facebook. Quit my account a year ago, haven't missed it, needed it, and my life is the better for it. Twitter anonymously does me fine. Zuck is a creepy psychopath who I refuse to patronize and neither should anyone.

We have laws in our country to protect us from certain practices. I am glad we have regulators and if they are upset so be it. I am not bothered about the experiment and it needed to be a blind study, but laws are laws at the end of the day.

Blind studies are beneficial,however to be in one,requires your consent,otherwise it is illegal,and your foolish to give them a free pass by being ok with their illegal activities.