Facebook to be probed over mood experiment

Facebook is being investigated to assess whether an experiment in which it manipulated users’ news feeds to study the effect it had on moods might have broken data protection laws.

Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is said to be looking into the experiment carried out by the social network and two US universities in which almost 700,000 users had their news feeds secretly altered to study the impact of “emotional contagion”.

A spokesman from the ICO said it was too early to tell what part of the law Facebook might have infringed, the Financial Times reported.

The paper said the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland will also be contacted as Facebook’s European headquarters are in Dublin.

The experiment was carried out in one week during January 2012 in collaboration with Cornell University and the University of California.

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.

Reports of the findings were published in the June 17 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Richard Allan of Facebook said the company will answer any questions regulators have. “It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it,” he said.

“The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”


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