Privacy group to FTC: Facebook 'purposefully messed with people’s minds'


EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed a formal complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission over Facebook's 'emotional contagion' study.

The experiment was conducted in 2012, and the results have become fodder for viral outrage online this week. Facebook manipulated about 700,000 of its users' newsfeeds, to see if changes could alter the users' emotions. EPIC says Facebook deceived its users and violated the terms of a 2012 FTC consent decree.

1. This complaint concerns Facebook’s secretive and non-consensual use of personal information to conduct an ongoing psychological experiment on 700,000 Facebook users, i.e. the company purposefully messed with people’s minds. As set forth in detail below, Facebook altered the News Feeds of Facebook users to elicit positive and negative emotional responses. Facebook conducted the psychological experiment with researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, San Francisco, who failed to follow standard ethical protocols for human subject research.

2. At the time of the experiment, Facebook did not state in the Data Use Policy that user data would be used for research purposes. Facebook also failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers. Moreover, at the time of the experiment, Facebook was subject to a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission which required the company to obtain users’ affirmative express consent prior to sharing user information with third parties.

3. Facebook’s conduct is both a deceptive trade practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act and a violation of the Commission’s 2012 Consent Order.

4. The Commission should impose sanctions, including a requirement that Facebook make public the algorithm by which it generates the News Feed for all users.

Here's a copy of the complaint [PDF]


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