That Creepy Facebook Study Is Sparking a Government Probe

Analyzing the top news stories across the web
July 2 2014 12:29 PM

That Creepy Facebook Study Is Sparking a Government Probe

May be in trouble across the pond.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This post first appeared in Business Insider.

Facebook faces a government investigation in Europe over its study of whether manipulating people's news feeds could change their emotions.


As noted recently, Facebook's experiment tweaked the algorithms of nearly 700,000 unwitting users, causing people to see an abnormally low number of either positive or negative posts. People who saw more negative posts wrote more negative posts, and vice versa, showing that their mood was being affected by the kinds of things they were reading on Facebook.

Now, governments in the U.K. and Ireland look set to investigate, according to the Financial Times:

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it was probing the experiment and planned to ask Facebook questions after widespread outrage when it was revealed at the weekend. The regulator said it would also be in contact with the Irish data protection body, because Facebook has its European headquarters in Dublin.
A spokesperson for the ICO said it was too early to tell exactly what part of the law Facebook may have infringed. The regulator looks at how much personal data are used and whether users have given their consent.

Facebook won't be helped by the fact that the company didn't alter its terms of service to disclose to users that their posts would be used for research until four months after the experiment took place, according to Forbes:

Four months after this study happened, in May 2012, Facebook made changes to its data use policy, and that’s when it introduced this line about how it might use your information: “For internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” Facebook helpfully posted a “red-line” version of the new policy, contrasting it with the prior version from September 2011—which did not mention anything about user information being used in “research.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg need not lie awake stressing over the outcome of any probe, however. The ICO only has the power to levy a fine of up to £500,000 ($857,000), the FT says — which is pocket change in terms of the.$3 billion that the social network holds on its balance sheet

Jim Edwards is a deputy editor at Business Insider. Follow him on Twitter.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.