The June 17 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) included an article on an “emotional contagion” study conducted for Facebook. For the study, researchers randomly chose more than 680,000 Facebook users and altered their news feeds so that some saw fewer positive posts and others saw fewer negative posts. The study looked to see what effect the positive or negative news feeds had on users’ status updates. The study, when it became public, sparked controversy because Facebook users did not know that they were being used as research subjects.
Now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint and request for investigation with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing that Facebook engaged in deceptive business practices and violated an earlier privacy agreement with the FTC. EPIC complains that Facebook “purposefully messed with people’s minds.” The complaint states: “At the time of the experiment, Facebook did not state in the Data Use Policy that user data would be used for research purposes. 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.”