As previously reported, Facebook revealed that it had conducted a psychological experiment on over 600,000 of its users without their consent. This experiment, which manipulated the posts that were shown in the users’ newsfeeds, sought to find out how they responded to the emotional tone expressed in their friends’ posts.
The results of the study were made public when published in a paper by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists of the United States.
Even though every Facebook user agrees to participating in such studies when they accept the clause that includes “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement,” in Facebook’s terms and conditions, several users were outraged when they learned that the study had taken place without their knowledge.
On Thursday, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer, Mike Schroepfer, addressed the incident in a blog post that detailed new guidelines the company is enforcing for both internal work and research.
Although Schroepfer maintained that the information gathering in the experiment was “important to research,” he admitted that he and his colleagues were “unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published.”
“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently,” wrote Schroepfer. “For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people.”
Schroepfer added that in releasing the study, Facebook “failed to communicate clearly” why and how the experiment was done. That lack of communication created everything from disgruntled users to official complaints.
The experiment prompted the Electronic Privacy Information Center to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that Facebook “deceived users and violated a 2012 Consent Order.”
The complaint stated that at the time of the experiment, “Facebook did not state in the Data Use Policy that user data would be used for research purposes,” and that Facebook “failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers.”
According to Schroepfer, Facebook’s new set of guidelines for research will involve an enhanced review process, if the research being done “may be considered deeply personal,” and will require “further review if the work involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community.”
“We believe in research, because it helps us build a better Facebook. Like most companies today, our products are built based on extensive research, experimentation and testing,” wrote Schroepfer. “We want to do this research in a way that honors the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day.”