Facebook has recently been under hot water because of a recently published study in which facebook modified the emotional content that is normally appeared on the newsfeed of its user and later studies the effect of that particular change on their uses. This was an experiment that was condemned and labeled as manipulation of unsuspected users and intrusion of users of facebook. Recently Wall Street Journal reported that this study was just one of those hundreds of studies that are actively been conducted by a well managed and trained group of data scientists.
There are some other stringent guidelines that the scientist’s team of facebook now uses. That team was formed in 2007 and it could run various experiments with very small oversight compared to the oversight of university researchers, and those experiments are conducted without the consent of is participants and also does not inform those who are being studied. Facebook has yet not commented on this issue.
Andrew Ledvina, who was also a data scientist at some company, stated that there is no review process in these types of organizations and anyone can conduct tests, and he told that even he and his friend once run a test without informing anyone in the company. He further said that members of such organizations are always trying to alter the behavior of people.
Many companies that invest substantial amount of user data make use of it and test small tweaks of designs and products. But the personal nature of user’s interactions and the intimacy with facebook make this idea of conducting experiments without any proper supervision and guideline is deemed as invasive, even if a person has allowed this by agreeing on the terms and services when joining facebook.
Facebook has now made it mandatory for any research to be conducted shall be reviewed by a group of internal experts on privacy. But again the problem lies in the word “internal” as the company does not reveal the identity and addresses of those experts who use terms and services as a guise for consent of user for this type of researches. The uproar that was created from the users after the publication completely shows that users are mostly unaware of the terms and conditions that they are agreeing upon and very few people tend to read it completely.
Sheryl Sandburg who is the COO of Facebook apologized on this poor communication few days back. But it might not be a poor communication as it was merely existent.
After the earlier criticism on this emotional study, facebook gave a statement in which they emphasized that this research was conducted for just one week in 2012 and none of the data was particularized for a specific person’s account on facebook. They said that facebook performed these types of researches to improve their services and to make the content of the newsfeed more relevant to what user wants to see.
However we will have to wait to see what further implications will this criticism on this research will bring in near future.