Monday 19 March 2018

Ireland's privacy chiefs await Facebook's explanation over alleged psychological experiment on users' moods

Almost 700,000 Facebook users had their news feeds secretly altered to study the impact of 'emotional contagion'
Almost 700,000 Facebook users had their news feeds secretly altered to study the impact of 'emotional contagion'

Irish privacy chiefs are awaiting an explanation from Facebook over an alleged psychological experiment which recorded users' moods as news feeds on the social network were manipulated.

The Data Protection Commission (DPC) has confirmed it has been in contact with the web giant's Dublin headquarters to ask for a comprehensive explanation of the secret test.

The question of user consent is understood to be a major issue for the Irish watchdog.

In the UK the Information Commissioner's Office is also said to be looking into how the social network and two US universities altered news feeds of almost 700,000 users and monitored their reactions.

The study was said to be designed to measure the impact of ''emotional contagion''.

A spokeswoman for Ireland's DPC said: "I can confirm that this office has been in contact with Facebook in relation to the privacy issues, including consent, of this research. We are awaiting a comprehensive response on issues raised."

The UK inquiry will look at what data protection laws, if any, may have been broken, the Financial Times reported.

The experiment, carried out in one week during January 2012 in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California, sparked a social media furore.

It is understood the aim of the government-sponsored study was to see whether positive or negative words in messages would lead to positive or negative content in status updates.

Many users reacted angrily following online reports of the findings, which were published in the June 17 edition of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some referred to it as ''creepy'', ''evil'', ''terrifying'' and ''super disturbing''.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said: "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."

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