EPIC Files Complaint with FTC Over Facebook Emotional Study

Posted by at 2:28 pm on July 7, 2014

If Facebook hasn’t received enough flak for the emotional study it conducted on its user base, the company could soon face more from regulators. Last week, privacy watchdog group the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the one week study Facebook conducted in 2012 that manipulated users’ news feeds.

In EPIC’s filing to the FTC, the group asserts that Facebook “purposefully messed with people’s minds” while failing to “follow standard ethical protocols for human subject research.” The group believes that Facebook ran afoul of several guidelines, including an FTC consent order and a failure to inform users.

“At the time of the experiment, Facebook did not state in the data use policy that user data would be used for research purposes,” said EPIC in the complaint. “Facebook also failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers. Moreover, at the time of the experiment, Facebook was subject to a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission which required the company to obtain users’ affirmative express consent prior to sharing user information with third parties.”

As part of the relief, EPIC requests that the FTC launches an investigation into the “unlawful manipulation” of the news feed and data transfer to third parties that violated a 2012 consent order. EPIC asks that the FTC actually enforce the consent order it put into place, as well as force Facebook to make public the algorithm that is used on the news feed.

The full body of the complaint can be viewed at the EPIC website.

EPIC saw success in the past in its filings against the social media company. A filing from 2009 and a follow-up in 2010 led to a settlement between the FTC and Facebook, which resulted in the 2012 consent order. The complaint was over the sharing of information when Facebook previously said the data was private.

Facebook is already facing an inquiry into the emotional study in the United Kingdom from the Information Commissioner’s Office. The office is looking into the research to see if it broke any laws, including those around the age of the users selected for the study.

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