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Facebook Slapped With FTC Complaint Over Emotion Study

Facebook has been hit with an FTC complaint over its controversial study conducted on the emotions of users, allegedly without their consent.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that Facebook secretly misused user data to conduct psychological experiments, which was not covered at all by the site's Data Use Policy. As Facebook settled with the FTC less than three years ago over its privacy policy, this new experiment on users may violate that settlement agreement.

What do Facebook users need to know about this FTC complaint?

Unauthorized Experiment or Innovation?

Facebook took a bit of a PR hit last week when media outlets publicized an experimental study secretly conducted on 689,003 Facebook users by researchers at Cornell University and the University of California San Francisco. Researchers studied how Facebook users were affected by slightly more depressing posts in their News Feeds.

A company purposely trying to depress hundreds of thousands of people? Strange. But critics were more steamed that this experiment wasn't part of Facebook's privacy or data policies. In response, Facebook mostly stood its ground, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explaining that the experiment was simply "poorly communicated," reports TechCrunch.

USA Today reports that Facebook doesn't believe this experimental use of user data was done without permission, regardless of "whether their privacy policy uses the word 'research' or not." Since it's now been more than 10 years of having Facebook in users' lives, one might expect the company to be more transparent about this kind of data use, or at least more repentant.

Violation of FTC Settlement Order?

This isn't the first time that Facebook has come under the FTC's scrutiny for privacy violations. The social media giant settled with the FTC over claims of deceptive use of personal data in late 2011, giving the impression that it had learned its lesson. As part of the settlement, Facebook doled out $20 million in settlement funds and agreed to revamp its privacy policy under FTC supervision.

But as the EPIC complaint alleges, this earlier FTC settlement "prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting the extent to which it maintains the privacy or security of covered information," especially when it is being given to third parties.

Sounds like Facebook may have some explaining to do before the FTC brings down the hammer.

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