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Data Protection

UK regulator probes Facebook's psychological experiment

A psychological test carried out by Facebook back in 2012 has now caught the interest of British regulators amid data protection worries. The experiment was all about manipulating the news feeds of users.

Facebook's 2012 experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users was to find out if the social media company could alter the emotional state and disposition of its clients and prompt them to post either more positive or negative content, depending on the amount of positive and negative news they viewed in other feeds.

In other words, the research was done to find out whether exposure to emotions led people to alter their own posting behavior.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is investigating whether Facebook broke data protection laws when it allowed researchers to conduct the psychological experiment on users in the social network, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

Outrageous or just normal?

The UK regulator is tasked with monitoring how personal data is used and has the power to force organizations to change their policies and can levy fines of up to 500,000 pounds ($839,000 or 613,000 euros).

Facebook a financial market player

Facebook said it didn't see any wrongdoing on its part, although users were not aware of having been turned into lab rats. The network stated there had been "no unnecessary collection of people's data."

Internet privacy concerns shot up the agenda last year when former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of mass US surveillance programs.

hg/cjc (Reuters, FT)

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