Facebook faces UK regulator probe over ‘emotions’ experiment

Information Commissioner’s Office to determine if social media firm breached data protection laws

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Facebook faces UK regulator probe over ‘emotions’ experiment Facebook’s study tried to discover if users could be manipulated into changing the emotional nature of their posts by editing their newsfeeds. (Getty Images)
By  Stephen McBride Published  July 2, 2014

Facebook Inc will face a regulatory inquiry in the UK over whether it breached the country's data protection laws when conducting a psychological experiment on almost 700,000 of its users, Reuters reported.

The Information Commissioner's Office, which oversees private and public sector organisations' use of personal data, has the power to force companies to change internal policies and can impose fines of up to £500,000 ($860,000).

Facebook's experiment, conducted in 2012 and published in an academic journal in March, caused international outrage when highlighted by a US-based blog site last week. The study attempted to discover if users could be manipulated into changing the emotional nature of their Facebook posts by tailoring their newsfeeds to show either exclusively positive or exclusively negative content. The results showed little impact on posting behaviour.

Richard Allan, Facebook's director of policy in Europe, pledged full co-operation with the ICO probe and expressed confidence that "appropriate protections" had been followed when conducting the study.

"It's clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback," he said.

Lead data scientist on the project, Adam Kramer, posted an apology on his Facebook page: "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

But Kramer also said that, since the study had been conducted, Facebook had made changes to the way it conducted research. "We have come a long way since then."

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