After controversy, Facebook promises stricter scrutiny over research

Facebook is planning stricter scrutiny when conducting research. Facebook came under fire for a 2012 study that manipulated users' newsfeeds without their knowledge.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about Instagram's new video feature at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on June 20, 2013. Facebook announced it would change the way it conducts research because of controversy regarding a 2012 study.

Facebook Inc plans a stricter review of requests to access information on its 1.32 billion active users after a psychological experiment on unwitting users in 2012 created a furor on social media.

There will be a stricter review of requests for research, for internal work or academic purposes, that deals with personal content or specific groups of people, Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer wrote.

He did not elaborate on the new guidelines.

Facebook said new engineers will be educated on the company's research practices during training.

Any academic research that Facebook undertakes will now be published on a single site

A Facebook spokesman acknowledged in July that an experiment on nearly 700,000 users in 2012 had upset users and said the company would change the way it handled research. 

In the study, Facebook experimented with the emotional states of users to prompt them to post either more positive or negative content on their news feeds. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner's Office launched an investigation to determine if Facebook broke data protection laws. 

The experiment, conducted over a week in January 2012, targeted 689,003 users who were not notified that their news feed content was being manipulated to assess their moods in real time. The study determined that an increase in positive content led to users posting more positive status updates; an increase in negative content led to more negative posts....

“It’s one thing for a company to conduct experiments to test how well a product works, but Facebook experiments are testing loneliness and family connections, and all sorts of things that are not really directed toward providing their users a better experience,” says James Grimmelmann, a law professor and director of the Intellectual Property Program at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies in College Park.

"Although this subject matter was important to research, we were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published," Schroepfer wrote on Thursday.

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