Facebook experiment draws UK legal probe

Regulators in the UK are investigating whether Facebook’s controversial mood experiment on more than 600,000 users violated data protection laws, according to a report from Reuters.

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Over the weekend, an academic paper surfaced describing an experiment Facebook conducted on users to determine whether mood is tied to the Facebook content a user sees.

For a period in 2012, Facebook showed 600,000 users either less positive or less negative posts from their friends and then tracked whether the users’ posts were positive or negative.

“We show, via a massive ... experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness,” the authors, including Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer, wrote about their study.

The study and its attempt to emotionally manipulate users without their permission irked some, but Facebook defended it.

Now it will have to defend the experiment to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, Reuters reported, based on a report from the Financial Times that is only available to subscribers.

“The data regulator is probing the experiment and plans to ask Facebook questions” but said it is too early to determine which part of the country’s data protection law Facebook might have violated with its study, according to the report.

If the regulator finds that Facebook violated the data protection law, it can bring hundreds of dollars in fines.  

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