U.K. Regulator Probing Facebook Over Emotion Study (Report)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Britain's Information Commissioner's Office is looking into the experiment, in which news feeds on the social network were changed for 700,000 users.

LONDON — Facebook, led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, faces a U.K. regulator's investigation into an emotion study that was conducted involving changes to the social network's news feeds for about 700,000 users.

The Financial Times reported that Britain's Information Commissioner's Office is looking into the experiment after users reacted angrily to the study, which recently was disclosed and which looked at the impact of "emotional contagion."

The report said the regulator would look at whether Facebook broke data protection laws, even though it quoted the ICO as saying it was too early to tell if and which laws Facebook might have failed to adhere to.

The paper said that it also would reach out to the data protection commissioner in Ireland since Facebook's European headquarters is in Dublin.

The social network carried out the experiment in January 2012 with Cornell University and the University of California. The government-sponsored study wanted to test if positive or negative words in messages would lead to positive or negative content in status updates.

Many users reacted angrily following online reports of the findings, which were published in the June 17 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Critics called the experiment "creepy" and "evil."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai