Tag Archives: Ethics

Facebook Just Manipulated the Emotions of 700,000 Users Without Informing Them

When you sign up for Facebook, you have to agree to a whole laundry list of fine-print terms and conditions (which almost nobody ever reads). One of the things you consent to is Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which gives Facebook the right to use your info for, “…troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Well, it seems that Facebook has taken full advantage of the “research” portion of that agreement. A study published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that Facebook recently carried out an experiment that involved manipulating user’s emotions.

Basically, Faceobook wanted to know if removing sad, angry or otherwise negative terms from a user’s News Feed would affect how happy or sad the statuses they posted were.

So they randomly selected 689,003 users and tweaked the computer algorithms that determine what pops up on your News Feed. Some of the users were fed primarily neutral to happy information and stories, while others were fed primarily neutral to sad or depressing information.

It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that the users who were fed more negative information tended to post more gloomy statuses.

Congratulations Facebook, you proved something that 99% of 5th graders could have probably just told you.

But what about all of the users who Facebook intentionally made sad? Some serious questions have been raised about the ethics of the experiment.

Any experiment that receives federal funding has to abide abide by a code of rules known as the Common Rule for human subjects. The Common Rule’s definition of consent requires the researchers to give the test subjects, “a description of any foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.”

Facebook clearly didn’t abide by that standard, but since the test wasn’t federally funded, they are technically exempt. However, the PNAS also has its own set of rules for publication. Unfortunately, they seem to have bent or broken a few of them to publish the Facebook study.

Most notably, PNAS‘s guidelines for publishing require that a study abide the principles of the Helsinki Declaration, which states that test subjects must be,

“…adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail.”

Clearly, manipulating the emotions of 700,000 oblivious users is a blatant violation of this principle. With most people getting the bulk of their news and information on Facebook, it’s pretty unsettling to find out that they’re doing mass psychological testing on us.

Read the original story from Slate here.

Photo Credit: Jose Luis Magana/AP

Edward Snowden Gets Asylum Extension From Russia (Poll)

Russia has committed to extending asylum protections to Snowden. Edward Snowden was originally guaranteed protection by Russia for a year, as that year ended Russia made it clear to Snowden he did not have to worry about being sent away…

According to CNN the news about Edward Snowden’s extended asylum…

…came Friday (1/24/14) from Alexy Pushkov, a legislator who is head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma, Russia’s lower house. He spoke about Snowden at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”

Snowden is bitter-sweet about the situation, on one hand he is happy to have an extended asylum but on the other hand he has stated publicly that he thinks going back to the United States would be the best solution for all parties. Unfortunately, that does not seem possible right now, Snowden wants Whistleblower’s protection but the US will not guarantee him that.

Snowden is upset that the U.S. government’s Whistleblower Protection Act doesn’t currently cover someone like him, a former government contractor. Edward Snowden elaborated, according to CNN

There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing,” he wrote. “… My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistle-blower protection act reform.”

So as of now it seems Edward Snowden is still in a temporary position in Russia. What do you think about the situation? Do you think Snowden should come home and plea Guilty? Or do you think the US should grant him Whistleblower’s protection?