Privacy group wants feds to investigate Facebook over psych experiment

Privacy advocates are asking regulators to investigate Facebook over the company’s recently revealed study that involved emotionally manipulating almost 700,000 users.

“The company purposefully messed with people’s minds,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said Thursday in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), first reported by National Journal.

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“There should be no more secret manipulation of Internet users,” EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg said.

Earlier this week, an academic paper co-authored by a Facebook data scientist surfaced describing a 2012 study in which the company showed nearly 700,000 users either fewer positive or negative posts from friends.

Facebook then tracked the emotional tone of those users responses to determine whether seeing negative or positive posts can change moods.

While many criticized Facebook for experimenting on its users without their knowledge, the company has largely defended the study, saying that they are constantly working to understand and improve user experience.

A UK data protection authority said earlier this week that it is investigating the company for its psych experiment.

The privacy watchdog’s Thursday complaint to the FTC claims that Facebook violated Section 5 of the FTC Act — which prohibits deceptive trade practices — as well as a 2012 consent order the social media giant has with the agency.

That consent order stemmed from agency complaints that Facebook deceived users by making public information that users believed would be kept private.

Under that order, Facebook cannot misrepresent its practices for sharing user data, including to third parties.

Facebook’s sharing data for the academic study is a violation of the consent order, EPIC told the FTC.

Facebook made “secretive and non-consensual use of personal information to conduct an ongoing psychological experiment,” failing to inform users that their data would be used for research or shared with researchers, the group wrote.

EPIC asked that the FTC investigate the company and “impose sanctions, including a requirement that Facebook make public the algorithm by which it generates the News Feed for all users.”

A Facebook spokeswoman defended the company against EPIC’s claims.

“When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer,” the spokeswoman said, calling claims that it “conducted any corporate research without permission ... complete fiction.”

“Companies that want to improve their services use the information their customers provide, whether their privacy policy uses the word ‘research' or not,” she added.