The journal that published the controversial study in which
Facebook manipulated the emotions of users by altering content in
users’ News Feeds, has published an Editorial Expression of Concern regarding the study.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
has acknowledged that while the study represents an “important” and
“emerging” topic, it also needs to be tackled with “sensitivity and
with vigilance regarding personal privacy issues”. The note from
Inda M Verma touches upon the concerns that publications, Wired.co.uk included, have expressed regarding Facebook’s
choice not to seek informed consent or allow users to opt out of
such experiments. It also seeks to clarify why the study and its
publication went ahead, despite it not abiding by the guidelines
published by many academic and governmental bodies.
Verma first points out how because the data was gathered in
accordance with Facebook’s Data Use Policy and was for internal use
only, that the study did not fall under the Human Research
Protection Programme run by the partnering academic institution,
Cornell University. This was something that was decided by the
university’s Institutional Review Board.
Verma also explains that while adhering to the US Department of
Health and Human Services’ “Common Rule” (regarding informed
consent and other best practice) is PNAS policy, Facebook
was under no obligations to abide by the policy due to it being a
private company. This is why, based on the information provided by
the authors, PNAS “deemed it appropriate to publish the paper”.
“It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of
the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not
fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent
and allowing participants to opt out,” writes Verma.
The issuing of the statement follows regulators both in the US
and the UK saying that they will investigate the matter further.