[July 02, 2014]
(Reuters) - The British
data watchdog is investigating whether Facebook Inc
violated data-protection laws when it allowed
researchers to conduct a psychological experiment on its
A Facebook spokesman acknowledged that the experiment on nearly
700,000 unwitting users in 2012 had upset users and said the company
would change the way it handled research in future.
The study, to find if Facebook could alter the emotional state of
users and prompt them to post either more positive or negative
content, has caused a furor on social media, including Facebook
"We're aware of this issue and will be speaking to Facebook, as well
as liaising with the Irish data protection authority, to learn more
about the circumstances," the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)
spokesman Greg Jones said in an email.
Jones said it was too early to tell exactly what part of the law
Facebook may have infringed. The company's European headquarters is
The Commissioner's Office monitors 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 ($839,500).
Facebook said it would work with regulators and was changing the way
it handled such cases.
"It's clear that people were upset by this study and we take
responsibility for it," Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld said in an
"The study was done with appropriate protections for people's
information and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may
Internet privacy concerns shot up the agenda last year when former
U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed
details of mass U.S. surveillance programs involving European
citizens and some heads of state.
Last week, Google Inc said it has begun removing some search results
to comply with a European Union ruling upholding citizens' right to
have objectionable personal information about them hidden in search
($1=0.5956 British Pounds)
(Reporting by Supriya Kurane in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar
Warrier and Rodney Joyce)