News Feature | July 15, 2014

Senator Asks FTC To Scrutinize Big Data Use

By Trisha Leon, contributing writer

Senate FTC Big Data

A recent experiment conducted by Facebook using user data has drawn criticism and prompted one U.S. senator to ask the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to scrutinize the use of Big Data by Facebook and other companies. In IT News John Ribeiro quotes Senator Mark R. Wagner as saying, “….I think the industry could benefit from a conversation about what are the appropriate rules of the road going forward.”

In a letter to the FTC, Warner has asked whether the Facebook experiment violates the agency’s consent agreement of 2011 with the company and also section 5 of the FTC Act that prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.” Warner believes that a broader framework for the use of Big Data collected by social networks should be established as more companies collect and analyze user data on the Internet.

The experiment, which the authors hold “was consistent with Facebook's Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research,” used an algorithm which reduced exposure to friends’ positive emotional content in the news feed in one experiment, while reducing exposure to negative emotional content in the feed in a parallel experiment.

A Facebook spokesperson defended the social media site’s stance by saying via email, “It's clear that people were upset by this study, and we take responsibility for it. We want to do better in the future and are improving our process based on this feedback,” adding, “the study was done with appropriate protections for people's information, and we are happy to answer any questions regulators may have."

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