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European agencies investigating Facebook over experiment privacy issues

Several European agencies, believe Facebook may have broken privacy laws

Facebook researchers may be sorry for conducting research on the social media site’s user base without author consent, but according to some European agencies, being sorry may not be enough.

A recent Facebook experiment — in which researchers manipulated the content found on user’s news feeds — is now under investigation from several European data agencies. The agencies wish to find whether Facebook broke data privacy laws with its January 2012 investigation.

One of those agencies, reports the New York Times, is Ireland’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. Facebook holds global offices in Dublin, and the company’s operations outside of North America mostly fall under the Office’s jurisdiction. A regulator within the Office has asked Facebook to turn over details about the study, including whether Facebook attempted to gain consent from its user base.

The Information Commissioner’s Office of Britain is also investigating the incident, telling the NYT, “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.”

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These investigations are largely a result of the public outcry against Facebook once the experiment’s data collection records came to light. According to statistic provided to InsideCounsel from Kanjoya, an emotional intelligence analytics firm, the predominant emotion of all Tweets discussing Facebook was anger, at 27.7 percent. Among teenagers, meanwhile, the most common emotional expression was “worried,” particularly concerning how Facebook is using its information among third parties.

For its part, the company seems prepared for regulator questions. Facebook’s director of policy in Europe, Richard Allan, echoed the sentiments of Facebook’s researchers, saying in a statement, “We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback. The study was done with appropriate protections for people’s information, and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have.”

However, based on Google’s experience navigating Europe’s privacy laws, Facebook may be in for a bumpy ride. Following a European court ruling supporting the “right to be forgotten,” Google became flooded with takedown requests from upset European citizens.

Assistant Editor

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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