Privacy Group EPIC Files FTC Complaint Over Facebook Experiment

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The Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission over the social network's experiment where it manipulated the posts users saw to gauge emotional reactions. The group claims Facebook acted unethically and "purposefully messed with people's minds."

EPIC files FTC complaint against Facebook over 2012 social experimentEPIC files FTC complaint against Facebook over 2012 social experiment

Facebook conducted a week-long experiment in 2012 where it manipulated thousands of user's feeds so some saw mostly negative posts while others saw mostly positive. Users were then monitored to see if the posts they saw had an impact on what they wrote on their own Facebook walls.

While conducting emotional response experiments isn't necessarily unethical, it's the way that Facebook went about collecting its data that's a problem: No one was told they were part of the study.

Facebook is facing an investigation in the UK, too. The Information Commissioner's Office is looking into whether or not Facebook's study broke local laws, and if so, the company could face up to a £500,000 fine.

Facebook said it will cooperate with the ICO's investigation, but has not yet commented on EPIC's complaint with the FTC.

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EPIC's FTC complaint doesn't come as a surprise. Facebook better be ready for more complaints like this, and lawsuits will probably start surfacing soon, too.

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Observing information about the way people behave to certain stimuli (the culmination of timeline posts) is not the same as manipulating people through the use of stimuli (changing what people would ‘normally’ see in their timelines). Aside from what I believe to be the current misinterpretation of Facebook’s right to ‘gather’ information, my disgust for this also lies in not just the immorality in subjecting users to this sort of manipulation, but the audacity in believing that a lackluster ‘terms of use/privacy’ statement will pacify those of us who’d take steps in ensuring this never happens again.

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