The Truth About Facebook Inc (FB)
Shah Gilani: It’s Independence Day tomorrow (Friday), so here’s a story about your freedom to think about and act on.
News came to light this week that a Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) data scientist named Adam Kramer conducted an experiment on 689,003 users of the social network site over a seven-day stretch in January 2012.
It’s news for a few reasons.
Some people are ticked off that they may have been used in an experiment without their knowledge. Some of the subjects of the experiment may have been teenagers.
And some people, namely folks at the UK Information Commissioner’s Office and the Data Protection Commissioner of Ireland, are looking into whether European Union privacy laws were broken.
Facebook wants us to believe it’s all a big kerfuffle over nothing.
And today, I’m going to show you how we’re letting those rights slip through our fingers…
Another Right Bites the Dust (Thanks, FB!)
So what if some people got good-manipulated (as in feeling good and uplifting) news feeds and some people got bad-manipulated (as in depressing) news feeds to see how they’d react and how it affected their social interaction with peers? We’ll never know.
At the time of the experiment, Facebook’s Terms of Service policy said user data could be used to improve Facebook’s products. In May 2012, FB added the phrases “internal operations” and “research” to the policy.
That means Facebook changed the rules after the fact.
So what? Who reads all that blather anyway?
Kramer, the not-so-mad scientist who ran the study, said, “The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.”
That’s thoughtful. The 100 or so scientists FB employs are just thinking about the company’s 1.3 billion users – and how to make their day.
But Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum had another take on it – one that is decidedly less… altruistic.