As you may know, it has come to light that Facebook ran an experiment with nearly 700,000 users in 2012, showing how it could manipulate emotions by showing users more positive or negative content in their News Feeds.
As some have pointed out, Facebook’s terms say it can use users’ info “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research, and service improvement,” with research being the keyword in this case. Only one problem: that wasn’t actually in the terms when Facebook carried out the experiment.
Forbes points out that Facebook made changes to its data use policy four months after the experiment, and yes, that bit about research was one of those changes.
So if you were already upset about Facebook’s little test, there’s some more fuel for the fire. For some reason, images of Mark Zuckerberg sweating bullets while being grilled about privacy on stage at the D8 conference are coming to mind.
Facebook now has Consumer Watchdog on its back over the whole thing. The organization put out a press release calling Facebook’s research “unethical”.
“There is a longstanding rule that research involving human subjects requires informed consent. The researchers clearly didn’t get it,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, “Sleazy, unethical behavior is nothing new for Facebook, so I’m not really surprised they would do this. The academic researchers involved with the project and the National Academy of Sciences, which published the results, should be ashamed.”
“Facebook’s TOS — like those of most Internet companies — are cleverly crafted by high-priced lawyers so as to be virtually indecipherable to the average user, but allow Facebook to do essentially whatever it wants commercially,” said Simpson. “It protects Facebook and its sleazy business practices, but it in no way provides the level of informed consent that is expected and required when doing research with human subjects.”
Obviously that was before it came to light that the part about research wasn’t even in the ToS when the experiment was carried out.
“Facebook has no ethics,” said Simpson. “They do what they want and what is expedient until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. Like the rest of the tech giants, they then apologize, wait a bit and then try something new that’s likely to be even more outrageous and intrusive. Silicon Valley calls this innovation. I call it a compete disrespect for societal norms and customs.”
Yes, the current outrage will no doubt die down within the week, and Facebook will carry on being Facebook. And Facebook users will carry on using Facebook.
Image via YouTube
About Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.