Facebook is facing a probation from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK. They investigate whether the social media giant broke data protection laws during its recent psychological study. The ICO has said that it plans to ask Facebook a number of questions about the study to ensure that the privacy of UK citizens was protected at all times and not used illegally. The investigation will primarily involve Facebook’s European headquarters that are based in Dublin, Ireland.
The psychological study was conducted in partnership with Cornell University and the University of California. It saw Facebook manipulate the timelines of 700,000 users to expose them exclusively to certain emotions. For example, some people in the study would only see posts in their timeline that showed negative emotions such as sadness. The researchers were looking to see what effect this would have on user behavior on the social media site.
Following publication of the research report there was widespread condemnation of the study. Many users felt that the company had unfairly manipulated their own emotions by intentionally making them feel either sad or happy. Others argued that it showed how much power Facebook had over people and that without significant oversight they could go on to further manipulate people’s feelings further in the future. Other researchers have also attacked the study, ruling it unethical for its lack of informed consent from those participating.
Facebook meanwhile has defended the study in the past few days and Richard Allen from the company has, in response to the investigation by the ICO, said: “We are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.” The ICO investigation will look purely at the collection and use of data by Facebook as it does not have any authority to rule on the ethics of the study or the reasons for it being carried out.