Mark Zuckerberg

DPC investigates Facebook over mood experiment

Pictured: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Image: TechHive (US)

2 July 2014

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioer and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will be questioning Facebook about privacy issues around the social network’s controversial mood experiment, revealed Monday.

Users and analysts have been in uproar over news that the social network allowed researchers to manipulate the positive and negative information that users saw on their news feeds to test their emotions. The study, conducted over a week in January 2012 and affecting about 700,000 people, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Office of the Data Protection Office confirmed that it has been in touch with Facebook “in relation to the privacy issues, including consent, of this research” and is awaiting an official response.

As Facebook’s EMEA headquarters is in Ireland, under EU law it falls to the Irish DPC to police its data protection policies.

Although the UK ICO said that it was just making a “general” enquiry at this stage, the second principle under the Data Protection Act, ‘processing personal data for specified purposes’, is relevant to the enquiry.

Principle two of the Act aims to ensure that organisations are open about their reasons for obtaining personal data, and that what they do with the information is in line with the reasonable expectations of the individuals concerned.

In practice, this means that companies should be clear from the outset about why they are collecting personal data and what they intend to do with it. They also have a duty to give privacy notices to individuals when collecting their data, and ensure that if they wish to use the personal data for any purpose that is different from the originally specified purpose, the new use is fair.

In a statement, Facebook’s director of European public policy Richard Allan said: “It’s clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback.

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

IDG News Service

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