Following the controversy embroiling Facebook over its emotional contagion study, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed legal complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday, demanding an investigation over the social media network's deceptive business practices and violation of an earlier privacy agreement with FTC.
Recall that the controversial experiment involved nearly 700,000 Facebook users who became subjects of human research -- but without them knowing it. The experiment entailed influencing the News Feeds of these users to study if negative and positive status updates have similar effects on the users who read it.
Said experiment was used in a recent published study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Cornell University, which is why the public and media came to know about it. The University researchers also partook in the experiment made by Facebook but not specifically on gathering those statistics and private information with which the social media has sole responsibility for.
EPIC questions the non-consensual and secretive user of private data of users for Facebook's psychological experiment. It also argues that Facebook failed to obey the standard or required ethical protocols involving human subjects for research. It accuses the social media site of having "purposefully messed with people's minds."
"At the time of the experiment, Facebook did not state in the Data Use Policy that user data would be used for research purposes. Facebook also failed to inform users that their personal information would be shared with researchers. Moreover, at the time of the experiment, Facebook was subject to a consent order with the Federal Trade Commission which required the company to obtain users' affirmative express consent prior to sharing user information with third parties," EPIC also writes [pdf] in its complaint.
EPIC points out that Facebook's behavior is a violation of FTC's consent order in 2012 and a deceiving trade practice based on FTC Act, Section 5.
Facebook's executives issued previous statements apologizing for having angered the public but explaining at the same time that once users sign up with the site, they already gave consent to such possible research.
Other organizations expressed intent to file complaints, too, such as the Center for Digital Democracy. Facebook is also facing similar investigation from data protection regulators in the UK.
Previous research indicates Facebook again became the subject of a previous investigation of FTC when it applied changes to its privacy settings, which led to some private info becoming public without prior notice or approval. The social media firm came to a settlement that included ordering Facebook get consent for every change in applies to its privacy settings.