Privacy group files FTC complaint against Facebook for alleged privacy violations
By End the Lie
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over a 2012 study that manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 users in order to track emotional changes.
The complaint alleges that Facebook deceived its users and violated a 2012 consent decree with the FTC by conducting the study.
“The company purposefully messed with people’s minds,” EPIC stated in the complaint released Thursday.
The study involved Facebook changing the number of negative and positive posts shown to users in their news feed over a week in January 2012 in order to track how it changed the emotional tone of their own messages.
The study, published last week, found that users were indeed influenced by the emotional content of their news feed. Users who saw more negative posts wrote more negative posts and users who saw more positive material wrote positive posts.
Facebook never sought or obtained permission from users to conduct the study. Instead, they argued that their policy gave them sufficient permission to conduct the research, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The influential journal that published the original study was not so quick to brush aside concerns.
An article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted that while the editors deemed it appropriate to publish the paper, “It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”
EPIC is now seeking to get the FTC to enforce the privacy consent order while also accusing the company of engaging in deceptive trade practices.
The group contends that “Facebook’s misuse of data is a deceptive practice subject to FTC enforcement.”
“Facebook is also currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy. The consent decree resulted from complaints brought by EPIC and a coalition of consumer privacy organizations in 2009 and 2010,” EPIC noted.
The reaction to the study in Canada, however, seems much more muted, according to The Star.