Bloomberg News report
NEW YORK (Oct. 6, 2014) — Facebook Inc. plans to keep experimenting with how its service affects users' behavior — just more responsibly.
The social network said in a blog post Oct. 2 that it's giving its researchers clearer guidelines to follow when studying sensitive topics, such as users' emotions. Facebook said it has also created a board composed of members of its legal and privacy teams to review proposed projects.
The changes follow a controversy in June over a 2012 mood experiment that influenced what almost 700,000 Facebook members saw on their news feeds, which the company didn't publicly disclose until this year. Facebook repeatedly has had to respond to concerns about how it handles data on its members, which now number more than 1.3 billion worldwide. In September, the company prompted users to review their privacy settings, taking a proactive step to assuage such concerns.
“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently,” Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said in the post, referring to the 2012 experiment. “In releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”
Mr. Schroepfer said Facebook turned to academics for advice on how to improve its program after being unprepared for a public backlash over the mood experiment. Facebook still needs to do research to improve its products and understand what needs to be built, but will be more transparent about the process, posting all studies on a website for the public, he said.
“It's a great first step,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law and one of the academics the company consulted. Still, he said, Facebook hasn't been clear yet about the criteria they use to evaluate a potential project. “I'd like to know more about the guidelines they have in place.”