What Kind of Privacy Can You Legally Expect from Facebook - Carlos A. Gamino, Attorney

As a Wisconsin attorney, Carlos Gamiño keeps up on the latest trends in privacy law – and news of Facebook conducting “psychological experiments” with its users has started a firestorm of controversy over how much, if any, privacy we can expect when we have Facebook accounts. Here’s a quick interview with Attorney Gamiño about whether these types of experiments are legal.

What did Facebook do?

Carlos Gamiño: Facebook took the data of about 700,000 registered data to find out whether seeing happy posts in their newsfeeds made them more likely to post happy statuses and, on the other end of the spectrum, whether negative posts begat more negative posts.

They worked with Cornell University and the University of California, and their findings were published in March’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Is that legal?

Carlos Gamiño: Maybe. When you sign up for a Facebook account, you’re agreeing to their Terms of Service. The Terms of Service state that the company “May use the information we receive about you… for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Informed consent requires that you know what you are getting into, and who really reads the Terms of Service when they sign up for anything? They’re long, packed with legalese and frankly, pretty boring. If there’s an “I Accept” button you can get to without even scrolling through thousands of words, most of us will just click it and assume that such a big company isn’t going to manipulate our emotions for the sake of a psychological experiment.

Who is looking into Facebook’s psychological experiments?

Carlos Gamiño: There’s an Irish data privacy group who’s looking into the whole thing, and the Electronic Privacy Information Centre is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

Does it really matter that Facebook conducted psychological experiments?

Carlos Gamiño: That’s up to you, whether or not you were one of the 700,000 people affected. Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts over it, while others just decided to move on and don’t really care. It’s really an individual decision – if you feel violated, you feel violated; that’s your right.

What do you think about the things companies bury in Terms of Service agreements? Let me know – I’d love to hear your opinion!

Carlos A. Gamiño