Facebook study: More fallout as journal editors voice concern over data collection

The fall-out continues from Facebook’s controversial study of “emotional contagion” online, with more criticism being raised on Thursday.

First, a leading privacy watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that Facebook failed to tell users that their data would be shared with third-party researchers, or that they would be subject to such studies. EPIC is also alleging that the study, in which researchers altered some users’ news feeds to test their emotional reactions, amounts to a violation of a 2012 consent order with the FTC, which settled earlier charges of privacy abuses by the social network.

There’s been no word from the FTC as to whether it will investigate the complaint, although European privacy regulators say they’re looking into similar concerns. In the days since the controversy erupted, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has apologized for “poor communication” about the study, but that didn’t seem to appease its critics.

And now the scientific journal that published the study has formally voiced its concern over the manner in which Facebook collected data from users who participated in the study.

As a private company, Facebook wasn’t obliged to follow the so-called “Common Rule” of ethical safeguards that government and academic researchers must follow, the editors of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said in a statement posted on the journal’s website.

But they added:

“It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

Stay tuned …

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (350 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.