Facebook to Face Formal Complaint for Manipulating Users’ Emotions

The social-media giant experimented on thousands of users without their knowledge.

This February 25, 2013 photo taken in Washington, D.C., shows the splash page for the Internet social media giant Facebook.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
July 3, 2014, 9:02 a.m.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates claim Face­book broke the law with its con­tro­ver­sial study of users’ emo­tions.

The Elec­tron­ic Pri­vacy In­form­a­tion Cen­ter plans to file a form­al com­plaint with the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion on Thursday, the group’s pres­id­ent, Marc Ro­ten­berg, told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Jeff Chester, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for Di­git­al Demo­cracy, said he spoke to FTC staff about Face­book’s ma­nip­u­la­tion of users’ emo­tions and he may file his own com­plaint. 

“I think what they did was de­cept­ive,” Chester said. “Face­book has a real prob­lem act­ing re­spons­ibly — it’s so fo­cused on gen­er­at­ing ad­di­tion­al ad rev­en­ues.”

The agency did not re­spond to a re­quest to com­ment on wheth­er it plans to in­vest­ig­ate Face­book. The com­pany is already fa­cing an in­vest­ig­a­tion from the U.K. data reg­u­lat­or over the is­sue.

Face­book ac­know­ledged this week that its data sci­ent­ists con­duc­ted a massive ex­per­i­ment in Janu­ary 2012 on nearly 700,000 users without their know­ledge. For one week, the re­search­ers ma­nip­u­lated the amount of pos­it­ive and neg­at­ive con­tent in users’ News Feeds to study how they re­spon­ded. The re­search­ers found that users who saw less pos­it­ive con­tent were more likely to post neg­at­ive up­dates them­selves.

Face­book’s data-use policy now states that the com­pany may use people’s in­form­a­tion for “re­search.” But as For­bes re­port­er Kash­mir Hill noted earli­er this week, the so­cial-me­dia site up­dated its policy in May 2012 to in­clude the new term — after the re­search­ers had already con­duc­ted the con­tro­ver­sial study.

The FTC, which po­lices “un­fair” and “de­cept­ive” busi­ness prac­tices, has sued nu­mer­ous In­ter­net gi­ants in re­cent years for vi­ol­at­ing the terms of their own policies.

In fact, the agency filed a suit against Face­book in 2011 for shar­ing more in­form­a­tion than it said it would in its user policy. A vi­ol­a­tion of that set­tle­ment could ex­pose Face­book to mil­lions of dol­lars in fines. But the set­tle­ment wasn’t fi­nal­ized un­til Au­gust 2012 — after the study took place.

A Face­book spokes­wo­man said the com­pany has al­ways told users their in­form­a­tion could be used to “en­hance the ser­vices we of­fer.”

“To sug­gest we con­duc­ted any cor­por­ate re­search without per­mis­sion is com­plete fic­tion,” the spokes­wo­man said. “Com­pan­ies that want to im­prove their ser­vices use the in­form­a­tion their cus­tom­ers provide, wheth­er their pri­vacy policy uses the word ‘re­search’ or not.”

Face­book Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­ficer Sheryl Sand­berg apo­lo­gized on Wed­nes­day dur­ing a trip in In­dia, say­ing the study was “part of on­go­ing re­search com­pan­ies do to test dif­fer­ent products” and was “poorly com­mu­nic­ated.”

“We nev­er meant to up­set you,” she said, ac­cord­ing to The Wall Street Journ­al.

UP­DATE: The Elec­tron­ic Pri­vacy In­form­a­tion Cen­ter has of­fi­cially filed its com­plaint, which al­leges the ex­per­i­ment was a “de­cept­ive” trade prac­tice. The group asks the FTC to re­quire Face­book to make its News Feed al­gorithm pub­lic, among oth­er sanc­tions. “The com­pany pur­pose­fully messed with people’s minds,” the pri­vacy group writes. 

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5050) }}

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×