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28 July 2014 Posted by 


Privacy activist demands investigation

By Anthony Stavrinos

FACEBOOK could face a probe by the US Government’s all-powerful Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over breaches of privacy in its “emotion contagion” experiment.

The US online privacy activist group the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC)  has submitted a complaint to the FTC, demanding the watchdog investigate Facebook’s misuse of user data.

"The company purposefully messed with people's minds," EPIC says in its complaint.

“Facebook conducted the psychological experiment with researchers at Cornell University and the University of California, San Francisco, who failed to follow standard ethical protocols for human subject research.”

The study was carried out during one week in 2012, with the findings published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

It involved hiding a “small percentage" of emotional words from peoples' news feeds, without their knowledge, to test the effect on statuses or "likes" they then posted or reacted to.

“Facebook’s conduct is both a deceptive trade practice under Section 5 of the FTC Act and a violation of the Commission’s 2012 Consent Order,” EPIC claims.

You can read the full EPIC complaint here: http://epic.org/privacy/ftc/facebook/Facebook-Study-Complaint.pdf

The FTC Act prohibits “unfair and deceptive” acts and practices, which EPIC alleges Facebook has committed within the Cornell study.

Facebook is also currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy, first imposed in July 2012, after an FTC investigation found the social network to be in violation of the FTC Act in the US.

The settlement caused Facebook to increase its privacy and security of information measures, as well as preventing the social network from misrepresenting the extent to which user data is held as private.

Facebook has so far declined to comment.

Of course, the privacy concerns are directly related to the social network’s widespread popularity among internet users covering a broad demographic.

But latest figures from Australia’s media watchdog suggest Facebook’s popularity is seriously waning among early teens almost certainly suggesting it will face a sharp generational decline in users.

Young Australians aged between 14 and 17 are logging off Facebook for other online forums such as microblogging site Tumblr, picture sharing site Instagram and wikis.

The proportion of teenagers using Facebook decreased from 70 per cent in 2012 to 58 per cent in 2013, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said.

ACMA attributed the figures to Nielsen Online Ratings data which shows the demographic accounts for just five per cent of Facebook’s users in Australia.

The figure is even lower for other social media, including former market leader MySpace (four per cent) and Twitter (three per cent).

The number of teenagers using the internet via mobile phones has more than tripled in the four years to December last year.The research showed 89 per cent of teens have a mobile phone, with 69 per cent of those owning a smartphone.

Meanwhile, in a reminder of how some parts of the world struggle to enjoy some of the internet liberties Australians take for granted, the Afghan government considered and rejected a proposal to ban Facebook during an ongoing deadlock over the presidential election.

The dispute between candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah over alleged fraud in the June 14 election has moved online with caustic exchanges between rival political supporters that have threatened to spill into violence.

"The national security council discussed banning of Facebook in their meeting," Fayeq Wahedi, deputy presidential spokesman, said.

"There are people on Facebook who spread hatred and cause damage to national unity, but after talks the council decided not to ban Facebook.”



Michael Walls
P: 0407 783 413
E: Michael@accessnews.com.au

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