updated 03:49 pm EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
Information Commissioner checks if Facebook research broke UK data laws
The fallout from Facebook's experiment with its users continues, with a UK government agency planning to investigate. The United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the body that deals with data protection laws in the country, will be looking to see if the social network broke any laws during its testing of emotional manipulation in 2012.
A spokesperson for the ICO told TechCrunch it has started to make inquiries into the matter. "We're aware of this issue, and will be speaking to Facebook, as well as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more about the circumstances," the ICO advised in a statement. Ireland's authorities are being brought into the matter due to the placement of Facebook's European headquarters.
Adding to the ethical issues of toying with user emotions for research purposes is the age range of those involved. Apparently, the study did not restrict the selected users by age at all, suggesting that participants as young as 13 may have been tested upon without their knowledge. The report notes that data protection laws typically require companies to be more careful when using data from minors, with agencies likely to perform more stringent checks if children are involved in any way.
Following an explanation from a co-author of the research paper written after the psychological study, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has apologized for the not communicating the research project effectively enough. During a visit to India to meet small businesses about advertising on Facebook, The Wall Street Journal reports Sandberg said "This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you."