Networking giant Facebook Inc. is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office in the U.K. after a study showed a psychological experiment influenced what users saw in their news feeds, raising fresh privacy concerns.
The test which run in January 2012 altered the number of positive and negative comments that almost 700,000 users saw on their online feeds of articles and photos.
The disclosure of the experiment prompted some members to express outrage on Twitter about the research as a breach of privacy, leading to The U.K. data regulator’s probe of the social network as was reported earlier by the Financial Times.
Facebook “communicated poorly” about the experiment, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said today at a New Delhi event to promote her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.”
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s office has been in contact with Facebook on privacy issues, including consent in relation to the research, and is awaiting a full report from the company, said John O’Dwyer, a spokesman for the agency. Facebook’s compliance with European Union law is governed by Ireland, because its European headquarters are in Dublin.
A study published June 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that the number of positive and negative comments that users saw on their news feeds was changed in January 2012. People shown fewer positive words were found to write more negative posts, while the reverse happened with those exposed to fewer negative terms, according to the trial of random Facebook users.
The data showed that online messages influence readers’ “experience of emotions,” which may affect offline behavior, the researchers said.
In a statement on June 29, Facebook said that none of the data in the study was associated with a specific person’s account. Research is intended to make content relevant and engaging, and part of that is understanding how people respond to various content, the Menlo Park, California-based company said.