Months after the event, Facebook has finally officially apologized for manipulating news feeds to examine user behaviour.
Back in June, they played with the news feeds of up to a million users with the aim of examining how positive or negative posts affected behaviour. When the public found out that Facebook has been changing what they saw and recording the results as research (without their permission) the backlash was massively negative.
Now Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer has spoken out about what happened, and promised that it wont happen again:
"It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently.For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people."
He also outlined some guidelines should the company work on any kind of research like this in the future.
- Guidelines: we’ve given researchers clearer guidelines. If proposed work is focused on studying particular groups or populations (such as people of a certain age) or if it relates to content that may be considered deeply personal (such as emotions) it will go through an enhanced review process before research can begin. The guidelines also require further review if the work involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community.
- Review: we’ve created a panel including our most senior subject-area researchers, along with people from our engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams, that will review projects falling within these guidelines. This is in addition to our existing privacy cross-functional review for products and research.
- Training: we’ve incorporated education on our research practices into Facebook’s six-week training program, called bootcamp, that new engineers go through, as well as training for others doing research. We’ll also include a section on research in the annual privacy and security training that is required of everyone at Facebook.
- Research website: our published academic research is now available at a singlelocationand will be updated regularly.
He signs off with the note: "We want to do this research in a way that honors the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day. We will continue to learn and improve as we work toward this goal."
Online privacy is an increasingly murky thing and with public breaches like this it just get murkier still.