Sen. Warner raises questions about Facebook experiment

July 10, 2014 (Washington). U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) asked privacy and consumer protection experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to provide more information on recent reports that the social network Facebook conducted an experiment involving nearly 700,000 users to study the emotional impact of manipulating information on their news feeds. In a letter yesterday to the FTC, which has worked with Facebook on its privacy policies, Sen. Warner asked the agency to explore the potential ramifications of the experiment, and to consider questions about what, if any, oversight would be appropriate for behavioral studies conducted by social media platforms. Sen. Warner also asked for an opinion on whether best practices should be developed and enforced by the industry, or by the FTC.

“I come from the technology world, and I understand that social media companies are looking for ways to extract value from the information willingly provided by their huge customer base,” Sen. Warner said. “I don’t know if Facebook’s manipulation of users’ news feeds was appropriate or not. But I think many consumers were surprised to learn they had given permission by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service. And I think the industry could benefit from a conversation about what are the appropriate rules of the road going forward.”

Sen. Warner has been a leader in the Senate in calling for improved consumer protections in the new digital economy. On tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence included his amendment to produce a comprehensive report of the threat from cyberattacks and cybercrime in their bipartisan cybersecurity package. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner chaired a Senate Banking subcommittee hearing on the recent massive credit and debit card security breaches impacting major retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus and millions of American consumers. He also successfully pushed retailers to establish an information sharing platform to better coordinate with law enforcement agencies and partners in the financial services sector to more efficiently combat cybersecurity threats, in the wake of the Target data breach.

The full text of Sen. Warner’s letter is available here.

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