Facebook (FB) is apologizing after conducting a ‘mood’ experiment on users that affected what some 700,000 saw in their news feeds.
The reveal has angered users and revived concerns about Facebook and its seemingly never-ending need to blur the privacy barrier.
Facebook announced on Sunday that it had manipulated the number of positive and negative news feeds to see how users responded, in effect performing a social mind experiment without user consent.
The Facebook researcher who organized the social media experiment, Adam D. I. Kramer, posted a public apology to his Facebook page.
“I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused,” he wrote.
A number of media outlets have pointed out that Facebook isn’t the only online privacy squasher.
Facebook is hardly the only Internet company that manipulates and analyzes consumer data. Google and Yahoo also watch how users interact with search results or news articles to adjust what is shown; they say this improves the user experience. But Facebook’s most recent test did not appear to have such a beneficial purpose.
Buried in the terms of service, FB users unwittingly agree to these types of social experiments and feed manipulations.
But that doesn’t mean it feels any less intrusive when it happens.
The amount of information that companies such as Google and Amazon know about consumers is staggering, from a person’s sexual orientation to whether they have children, are pregnant, or even had or considered an abortion (via purchases, online calendar appointments, or websites browsed).
In the Facebook study, news feeds were manipulated in January 2012 so that to see what effect it had on the tone of the posts the recipients wrote after viewing.
Moods, the researchers found, were contagious. People who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts, and the same went for those who saw more negative posts.
In effect, the obvious happened: People who heard, saw or read something gloomy or happy seemed to react in the same way.
The overall goal though, as it’s always been, is to use that information to find a way to keep you on the social network longer — and keep you clicking on those ads.
FB stock is up 24% year to date.