Abuse of User Data?

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When I woke up today, I found an article on my Twitter feed marked ‘Facebook tinkered with users’ feeds for a massive psychology experiment’. At first, I figured it was an article from ‘The Onion’, and therefore was a joke. However, it turns out to be true. In a paper published on pnas.org titled ‘Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks‘, it asserted “We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues. “.

 

This indicated that in the same way emotional states can be transferred through in-person social networks, it can also be transferred through online social networks. It did so by manipulating the users feed to evoke a particular emotion in the user.

 

As disturbing as it may be, the purpose of this article is not specifically about Facebook’s experiment. It is about the ethics of what to do with user data. Does a person accepting your Terms of Service mean you can do anything with the data they provide you? It is fairly well known that companies will mine and sell/share your data with its business partners, but where is the line? Should you customize advertisements, or track users movements to determine where they came from, or where they go after leaving your website? Is the law your only guideline for what should be done with this data, or should there be some ethical standards beyond that?

 

I am very new to programming, so I do not have an answer for you. I am just asking the question. All I would say is that you should be careful about what you do with the data you collect. Not ever website is integrated into daily society, and the internet is a VERY fickle thing. One day you are Facebook, and the next day you may be MySpace.

Author

Michael Day

Long time coding noob, who finally decided to take this thing seriously. Going back to school starting in October '14.

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