Facebook faces regulator probe into user experiment

Lynsey Barber
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Regulators will speak to Facebook over psychology experiment (Source: Getty)

Regulators in the UK are investigating Facebook to assess if any data protection laws were broken when it conducted a controversial psychological experiment on users without their knowledge.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO), the government body which oversees data and privacy regulation in the UK, said it would question Facebook about the experiment although it was too early to tell what part of the law may have been infringed, the FT reports.

The regulator will also contact the data protection body in Ireland where the social network has its European headquarters.

Facebook has come under fire after the study "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks", published in June but performed in 2012, revealed the social network had manipulated the news feeds of more than half a million users to see how changes elicited positive or negative responses.

Users agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions when they sign up to the service and its data policy states that personal information can be used for research, analysis and testing.

Many have questioned the ethics of users not being able to give informed consent to participate in the study however, as well as how data may have been shared with researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, who co-authored the study.

Facebook’s director of public policy in Europe Richard Allan told the FT it would be happy to speak to the regulator and that “appropriate protections” were taken when the study was performed.

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