U.K. Regulators to Probe Facebook in Wake of Experiment

ICO Looking to Learn More About the Circumstances

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Facebook is being investigated by the Information Commissioner's Office in the U.K. after a study showed a psychological experiment influenced what users saw in their news feeds, raising fresh privacy concerns.

A company researcher apologized on June 29 for a test in January 2012 that altered the number of positive and negative comments that almost 700,000 users saw on their online feeds of articles and photos. Disclosure of the experiment prompted some members to express outrage on Twitter about the research as a breach of privacy. The U.K. data regulator's probe of the social network was reported earlier by the Financial Times.

A spokesman for the ICO said yesterday that the agency would be speaking with Facebook and working with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to learn more about the circumstances. The ICO is investigating whether the company broke data- protection laws, though it's too early to tell what part of the law Facebook may have infringed, the Financial Times reported.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner's office has been in contact with Facebook on privacy issues, including consent in relation to the research, and is awaiting a full report from the company, said John O'Dwyer, a spokesman for the agency. Facebook's compliance with European Union law is governed by Ireland, because its European headquarters are in Dublin.

"It's clear that people were upset by this study and we take responsibility for it," said Richard Allan, a spokesman for Facebook in the U.K., in an e-mailed 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."

--Bloomberg News

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