Facebook Removes ‘Trending’ Section Due To Lack Of Use

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Facebook logo photo illustration. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past decade and a half, Facebook and its social brethren have rushed to connect the world, rushed to commercialize our private data and now are rushing to make our most sensitive information available to the world’s academics to study. Never once have those companies stepped back to ask whether this endless forced march against privacy was good for society or how to mitigate in any way the immense safety, privacy and ethical challenges their modern surveillance state would bring to bear. Facebook’s final effort to eliminate online privacy is the new Social Science One initiative, which will forcibly make the entire archive of private data from all two billion Facebook users available for academics across the world to mine and manipulate, with no right to be informed of how their accounts are being harvested or influenced and no right to opt out of having their personal data misappropriated. Given the historical sanctity of informed consent and the right to opt out as the pillars of ethical research and the restrictions many top academic journals have historically enforced on research that violates these sacred guarantees, will the research that results from Social Science One actually be publishable in mainstream journals?

In a world in which academia has lost its moral and ethical compass when it comes to data ethics, only the funding agencies that provide the support for academic research and the academic journals in which that research is published act as final firewalls against unethical research. Yet, funders today are only too eager to fund big data research, with some arguing that ethical transparency is far less important than prominent publications, while others actively work to roll back current ethical protections. Social Science One’s roster of prominent funding agencies reinforces the unfortunate fact that in today’s “big data” world no funder wants to be left behind, even if all of the questions regarding the ethics of that research are TBD.

This leaves the question of how the academic journals that are the ultimate venue for all of this research will respond to the unique and troubling ethical challenges raised by Social Science One’s research model.

To date, the major journals have largely adopted a strongly pro-ethics public stance, but a relatively lax posture when it comes to actually enforcing those views. Last year the American Psychological Association (APA) famously published the “Gaydar” study despite its grave privacy and safety concerns and IRB public data exemption, which even saw Stanford apparently deviate from the extremely strict data licensing requirements it had previously touted. In similar fashion, despite publishing an editorial note of concern over the ethics of the 2014 Facebook emotions study, PNAS noted two years later that it would very likely publish the same study again today if it was submitted. Last year when one of Science’s Board of Reviewing Editors refused multiple requests to provide a replication dataset for one of his studies or to even answer basic questions about its methodology, AAAS declined to comment on whether it would take any action to encourage its BoRE members to comply with replication standards when publishing in other journals.

In short, journals are loathe to risk missing out on the next big study and so despite extensive public posturing regarding data ethics and reproducibility, top journals rarely take a hard stand on data ethics.

At the same time, Social Science One’s decision to leave all ethical questions TBD and to eliminate the right to informed consent or the ability to opt out of research fundamentally redefines what it means to conduct research in the digital era, normalizing the removal of these once sacred ethical tenets. Given the refusal of one of its committee members to provide replication data for his own study and the statement by another committee member that “I have articulated the argument that ToS are not, and should not be considered, ironclad rules binding the activities of academic researchers. … I don't think researchers should reasonably be expected to adhere to such conditions, especially at a time when officially sanctioned options for collecting social media data are disappearing left and right,” the result is an ethically murky landscape in which it is unclear just where Social Science One draws the line at what it will or will not permit.

Given Facebook’s new focus on “privacy first” I asked the company whether it would commit to offering its two billion users a new profile setting allowing them to opt out of having their data made available to academic researchers such as Social Science One. As it has repeatedly done in the past, the company declined to comment.

Given Social Science One’s academic roots and the sanctity of informed consent and the right to opt out as key tenets of ethical research, I asked Social Science One itself whether it would consider creating a website where Facebook users could register their usernames to have them excluded from Social Science One datasets. If the initiative does not plan to offer any ability to opt out of its research, why does it feel that this refusal to provide an opt out option does not violate ethical norms? Given that Social Science One declined to rule out active manipulation research, in which researchers will be permitted to actively manipulate unsuspecting user accounts to control the flow of information they receive, alter their emotional state, affect their voting patterns or other active forms of psychological intervention, the lack of ability to opt-out and the lack of informed consent are particularly troubling. Despite repeated requests, neither SSRC nor its public relations agency responded.

This leaves the question of whether the journals themselves will take a stand.

Given their prominent statures in the scientific world and their historically strong public stances on research ethics, I asked Science, Nature, PNAS and APA to comment on whether they plan to accept publications arising from Social Science One research and how they viewed the initiative’s unique approach to research ethics as aligning with their own ethical policies.

Each journal was asked the same four questions. The first was whether as a matter of principle they would reject all submissions involving Social Science One datasets due to the lack of informed consent and lack of the right to opt out of research. The second is that given that Social Science One has to date declined to rule out active manipulation research, would the journal accept only studies that passively analyzed preexisting Social Science One datasets, but reject all studies that conducted active manipulation, in keeping with concerns over the 2014 Facebook emotions study. Third, whether an IRB-approved study that did not use Social Science One data, but which was based on mass harvesting of personal data without consent and where users wished to opt out but were refused that right, would be published. Finally, whether the journal would publish an IRB-approved study that secretly manipulated individuals’ emotions, behaviors, information streams, medical advice or other informational or behavioral streams without their knowledge or consent or where participants were unwillingly selected and refused the right to opt out.

Of the four journals, only Science expressed any kind of concern over Social Science One’s practices. Jeremy Berg, Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of journals offered that “the issues that you note would certainly cause concern and our editorial staff would follow up with the authors and the associated IRBs as appropriate to understand the context to determine if such papers could be published within our editorial guidelines.”

Yet, Science stopped short of an outright ban on submissions using Social Science One datasets, offering only that such research practices would “cause concern” and that it would follow up with the responsible IRBs, but would not commit to banning such research from publication.

It was PNAS that in 2014 issued an Editorial Expression of Concern over a massive IRB-approved study using Facebook data in which the journal offered “Questions have been raised about the principles of informed consent and opportunity to opt out in connection with the research in this paper. … Obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out are best practices in most instances under the US Department of Health and Human Services Policy for the Protection of Human Research Subjects (the “Common Rule”). … Adherence to the Common Rule is PNAS policy … It is [a] matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

Given that these exact same issues regarding informed consent and the right to opt-out are at the center of Social Science One’s Facebook datasets, one might assume that PNAS would adopt a similar stance as Science in raising concerns over the lack of consent and control in these new datasets.

Instead, PNAS offered only that “Submissions to PNAS are considered on a case-by-case basis by subject matter experts. In accordance with our policy, authors must include in the methods section a brief statement identifying the institutional and/or licensing committee approving the experiments. For all experiments involving human participants, authors must also include a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all participants, or provide a statement why this was not necessary.”

Asked whether the lack of informed consent would preclude publication or whether all Social Science One publications would be permitted to simply state that consent was not required, PNAS offered only that it had no further comment.

When asked to reconcile the apparent contradiction between its 2014 Editorial Expression of Concern that the lack informed consent and right to opt out was a “matter of concern” with its lack of mention of such concerns regarding Social Science One’s datasets that suffer from the same issues, PNAS again declined to comment further.

It is truly remarkable to reflect back on how much the ethical landscape has changed in just four years. In 2014 publishing a study using Facebook data that failed to provide informed consent or the ability to opt out was a severe enough breach of acceptable research ethics that it warranted an Editorial Expression of Concern. Two years later the journal offered that despite its earlier misgivings it would not have any problems publishing the study again. Now two years after that, all concerns regarding informed consent and the ability to opt out appear to be gone. The right to opt out doesn’t even make an appearance in PNAS’ latest statement, while informed consent can simply be waived by the authors stating that it “was not necessary.” How far our ethical standards have fallen in just four years.

Nature offered that “Ensuring that research published in the Nature Research journals has been conducted to a high ethical standard and reported transparently is of fundamental importance. All authors of papers in the life sciences complete a checklist to verify their compliance with our editorial policies, and in some fields, we also ask authors to complete a reporting summary. For experiments involving human subjects, authors must identify the committee approving the experiments, and must include with their submission a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all subjects. More detailed information about our policies for studies involving animals and human subjects are outlined on our website: https://www.nature.com/authors/policies/experimental.html. We are aware that the research ethics landscape is evolving, and we keep our editorial policies under regular review in order to best serve the community. The initial research scope of Social Science One (observational research only) and the ethics procedures it has put in place (requiring IRB or equivalent approval) are in line with our expectations of research of this nature.”

When I noted that Social Science One has not ruled out active manipulation research and that Nature’s requirement for informed consent was at odds with Social Science One’s lack of informed consent, Nature offered a second statement that “Nature Research’s policies for studies involving human subjects (https://www.nature.com/authors/policies/experimental.html) apply to research with human participants that involves active manipulation. Social Science 1’s [sic] policies for observational research are in line with current expectations as they require IRB (or equivalent) approval. We take our responsibility to serve the interests of the research community and the general public very seriously by publishing research of integrity carried out to the highest ethical standards. We are aware that the ethics of internet-based research are evolving and we closely monitor guidance from appropriate bodies.”

When I noted a third time that Social Science One has not ruled out active manipulation research and again raised the question of whether Nature would accept the same lack of informed consent or right to opt out for any other large dataset, Nature stated “We believe these questions regarding consent and the ability to opt-out are important. As these discussions evolve, we will monitor and engage with relevant bodies as appropriate. We have no further comment at this stage.”

It is intriguing that all three responses from Nature include a variant of their initial statement’s “we are aware that the research ethics landscape is evolving, and we keep our editorial policies under regular review in order to best serve the community." Given the across-the-board weakening of ethical protections across academia when it comes to “big data” research it is notable that Nature did not take the stronger stance of its peer publication Science in expressing that research which removes informed consent and the right to opt out raises “concern.”

When asked how Nature reconciles its statement that all studies “must include with their submission a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all subjects” with the fact that Social Science One studies do not offer informed consent, Nature declined to comment. It is therefore unclear why it sees Social Science One’s lack of informed consent as acceptable when its own statement would appear to suggest that such studies would not be accepted for publication. It is also unclear whether its apparent exemption of this policy applies only to Social Science One or whether any IRB-approved research that mass harvested personal private data for research without informed consent and against the specifically stated demands of at least some of those users not to include their data would also be acceptable.

APA offered only that “APA’s Publications and Communications Board sets policy for APA Journals. The P&C Board has not examined this issue.”

Given the public outcry over last year’s “Gaydar” study, it is notable that APA apparently did not spend any time over the following year to examine more deeply the ethical questions posed by social media data mining. One might have assumed that the organization’s surprise at the community’s reaction to the ethics of the Gaydar study would have caused it to launch a review of how it handles research on large social media datasets and whether it needed to amend its policies to explicitly address research that did not offer informed consent or the right to opt out.

Putting this all together, it seems that the era of informed consent and the right to opt out of research has come to an end in the “big data” era. Only Science went so far as to label the ethical practices of Social Science One of “concern” and that there would have been further conversations over whether the lack of informed consent and ability to opt out might actually preclude their publication in Science. Four years ago PNAS labeled the lack of informed consent and right to opt out in Facebook data research as a “matter of concern” so severe that it warranted a formal Editorial Expression of Concern, while two years later noting that it would still publish such research again and now in 2018 it no longer even mentions the right to opt out, while allowing informed consent to simply be waived. Nature’s apparent contradiction between its requirement of informed consent and its allowance of Social Science One research that lacks informed consent is difficult to resolve, while its repeated statements that ethical standards are evolving is troubling. APA’s apparently failure to take last year’s Gaydar study and its ethical lessons to heart, coupled with PNAS’ change of heart suggests that even when there are large public outcries regarding the ethics of a study that force a journal to publicly comment on its ethical standards, its back to business as usual shortly thereafter. In the end, none of the four journals would commit to prohibiting research that lacks informed consent or the right to opt out, whether it originated from Social Science One or whether it resulted from a random faculty member using an army of crawlers to mass harvest data on their own. So long as an IRB approved the research, including under the public use exemptions that permitted the 2014 study and last year's Gaydar study, it is fair game.

The refusal of Social Science One or Facebook to offer the right to opt out of research is particularly chilling given the kinds of research that may be permitted and that has been conducted by the company and other researchers in the past.

In the end, the fact that in today’s big data world the public is no longer afforded the basic right to opt out of research conducted by academics anywhere in the world and where funding agencies and top journals refuse to rule out publishing studies that include data or manipulation of users against their will and where they have repeatedly asked to be excluded from that research is simply Orwellian. It seems Facebook has learned little from its privacy scandals over the years, while the very academic community that four years ago condemned such work now embraces it. In its rush once again to make its users’ private data available to others against their will, the Facebook’s promise of “privacy first” rings hollow, while the academic world that once condemned its data practices now rush to mimic them. It seems the last semblance of privacy has finally been swept away from our digital world as we rush rush rush toward our new Orwellian world.

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Facebook logo photo illustration. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past decade and a half, Facebook and its social brethren have rushed to connect the world, rushed to commercialize our private data and now are rushing to make our most sensitive information available to the world’s academics to study. Never once have those companies stepped back to ask whether this endless forced march against privacy was good for society or how to mitigate in any way the immense safety, privacy and ethical challenges their modern surveillance state would bring to bear. Facebook’s final effort to eliminate online privacy is the new Social Science One initiative, which will forcibly make the entire archive of private data from all two billion Facebook users available for academics across the world to mine and manipulate, with no right to be informed of how their accounts are being harvested or influenced and no right to opt out of having their personal data misappropriated. Given the historical sanctity of informed consent and the right to opt out as the pillars of ethical research and the restrictions many top academic journals have historically enforced on research that violates these sacred guarantees, will the research that results from Social Science One actually be publishable in mainstream journals?

In a world in which academia has lost its moral and ethical compass when it comes to data ethics, only the funding agencies that provide the support for academic research and the academic journals in which that research is published act as final firewalls against unethical research. Yet, funders today are only too eager to fund big data research, with some arguing that ethical transparency is far less important than prominent publications, while others actively work to roll back current ethical protections. Social Science One’s roster of prominent funding agencies reinforces the unfortunate fact that in today’s “big data” world no funder wants to be left behind, even if all of the questions regarding the ethics of that research are TBD.

This leaves the question of how the academic journals that are the ultimate venue for all of this research will respond to the unique and troubling ethical challenges raised by Social Science One’s research model.

To date, the major journals have largely adopted a strongly pro-ethics public stance, but a relatively lax posture when it comes to actually enforcing those views. Last year the American Psychological Association (APA) famously published the “Gaydar” study despite its grave privacy and safety concerns and IRB public data exemption, which even saw Stanford apparently deviate from the extremely strict data licensing requirements it had previously touted. In similar fashion, despite publishing an editorial note of concern over the ethics of the 2014 Facebook emotions study, PNAS noted two years later that it would very likely publish the same study again today if it was submitted. Last year when one of Science’s Board of Reviewing Editors refused multiple requests to provide a replication dataset for one of his studies or to even answer basic questions about its methodology, AAAS declined to comment on whether it would take any action to encourage its BoRE members to comply with replication standards when publishing in other journals.

In short, journals are loathe to risk missing out on the next big study and so despite extensive public posturing regarding data ethics and reproducibility, top journals rarely take a hard stand on data ethics.

At the same time, Social Science One’s decision to leave all ethical questions TBD and to eliminate the right to informed consent or the ability to opt out of research fundamentally redefines what it means to conduct research in the digital era, normalizing the removal of these once sacred ethical tenets. Given the refusal of one of its committee members to provide replication data for his own study and the statement by another committee member that “I have articulated the argument that ToS are not, and should not be considered, ironclad rules binding the activities of academic researchers. … I don't think researchers should reasonably be expected to adhere to such conditions, especially at a time when officially sanctioned options for collecting social media data are disappearing left and right,” the result is an ethically murky landscape in which it is unclear just where Social Science One draws the line at what it will or will not permit.

Given Facebook’s new focus on “privacy first” I asked the company whether it would commit to offering its two billion users a new profile setting allowing them to opt out of having their data made available to academic researchers such as Social Science One. As it has repeatedly done in the past, the company declined to comment.

Given Social Science One’s academic roots and the sanctity of informed consent and the right to opt out as key tenets of ethical research, I asked Social Science One itself whether it would consider creating a website where Facebook users could register their usernames to have them excluded from Social Science One datasets. If the initiative does not plan to offer any ability to opt out of its research, why does it feel that this refusal to provide an opt out option does not violate ethical norms? Given that Social Science One declined to rule out active manipulation research, in which researchers will be permitted to actively manipulate unsuspecting user accounts to control the flow of information they receive, alter their emotional state, affect their voting patterns or other active forms of psychological intervention, the lack of ability to opt-out and the lack of informed consent are particularly troubling. Despite repeated requests, neither SSRC nor its public relations agency responded.

This leaves the question of whether the journals themselves will take a stand.

Given their prominent statures in the scientific world and their historically strong public stances on research ethics, I asked Science, Nature, PNAS and APA to comment on whether they plan to accept publications arising from Social Science One research and how they viewed the initiative’s unique approach to research ethics as aligning with their own ethical policies.

Each journal was asked the same four questions. The first was whether as a matter of principle they would reject all submissions involving Social Science One datasets due to the lack of informed consent and lack of the right to opt out of research. The second is that given that Social Science One has to date declined to rule out active manipulation research, would the journal accept only studies that passively analyzed preexisting Social Science One datasets, but reject all studies that conducted active manipulation, in keeping with concerns over the 2014 Facebook emotions study. Third, whether an IRB-approved study that did not use Social Science One data, but which was based on mass harvesting of personal data without consent and where users wished to opt out but were refused that right, would be published. Finally, whether the journal would publish an IRB-approved study that secretly manipulated individuals’ emotions, behaviors, information streams, medical advice or other informational or behavioral streams without their knowledge or consent or where participants were unwillingly selected and refused the right to opt out.

Of the four journals, only Science expressed any kind of concern over Social Science One’s practices. Jeremy Berg, Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of journals offered that “the issues that you note would certainly cause concern and our editorial staff would follow up with the authors and the associated IRBs as appropriate to understand the context to determine if such papers could be published within our editorial guidelines.”

Yet, Science stopped short of an outright ban on submissions using Social Science One datasets, offering only that such research practices would “cause concern” and that it would follow up with the responsible IRBs, but would not commit to banning such research from publication.

It was PNAS that in 2014 issued an Editorial Expression of Concern over a massive IRB-approved study using Facebook data in which the journal offered “Questions have been raised about the principles of informed consent and opportunity to opt out in connection with the research in this paper. … Obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out are best practices in most instances under the US Department of Health and Human Services Policy for the Protection of Human Research Subjects (the “Common Rule”). … Adherence to the Common Rule is PNAS policy … It is [a] matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

Given that these exact same issues regarding informed consent and the right to opt-out are at the center of Social Science One’s Facebook datasets, one might assume that PNAS would adopt a similar stance as Science in raising concerns over the lack of consent and control in these new datasets.

Instead, PNAS offered only that “Submissions to PNAS are considered on a case-by-case basis by subject matter experts. In accordance with our policy, authors must include in the methods section a brief statement identifying the institutional and/or licensing committee approving the experiments. For all experiments involving human participants, authors must also include a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all participants, or provide a statement why this was not necessary.”

Asked whether the lack of informed consent would preclude publication or whether all Social Science One publications would be permitted to simply state that consent was not required, PNAS offered only that it had no further comment.

When asked to reconcile the apparent contradiction between its 2014 Editorial Expression of Concern that the lack informed consent and right to opt out was a “matter of concern” with its lack of mention of such concerns regarding Social Science One’s datasets that suffer from the same issues, PNAS again declined to comment further.

It is truly remarkable to reflect back on how much the ethical landscape has changed in just four years. In 2014 publishing a study using Facebook data that failed to provide informed consent or the ability to opt out was a severe enough breach of acceptable research ethics that it warranted an Editorial Expression of Concern. Two years later the journal offered that despite its earlier misgivings it would not have any problems publishing the study again. Now two years after that, all concerns regarding informed consent and the ability to opt out appear to be gone. The right to opt out doesn’t even make an appearance in PNAS’ latest statement, while informed consent can simply be waived by the authors stating that it “was not necessary.” How far our ethical standards have fallen in just four years.

Nature offered that “Ensuring that research published in the Nature Research journals has been conducted to a high ethical standard and reported transparently is of fundamental importance. All authors of papers in the life sciences complete a checklist to verify their compliance with our editorial policies, and in some fields, we also ask authors to complete a reporting summary. For experiments involving human subjects, authors must identify the committee approving the experiments, and must include with their submission a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all subjects. More detailed information about our policies for studies involving animals and human subjects are outlined on our website: https://www.nature.com/authors/policies/experimental.html. We are aware that the research ethics landscape is evolving, and we keep our editorial policies under regular review in order to best serve the community. The initial research scope of Social Science One (observational research only) and the ethics procedures it has put in place (requiring IRB or equivalent approval) are in line with our expectations of research of this nature.”

When I noted that Social Science One has not ruled out active manipulation research and that Nature’s requirement for informed consent was at odds with Social Science One’s lack of informed consent, Nature offered a second statement that “Nature Research’s policies for studies involving human subjects (https://www.nature.com/authors/policies/experimental.html) apply to research with human participants that involves active manipulation. Social Science 1’s [sic] policies for observational research are in line with current expectations as they require IRB (or equivalent) approval. We take our responsibility to serve the interests of the research community and the general public very seriously by publishing research of integrity carried out to the highest ethical standards. We are aware that the ethics of internet-based research are evolving and we closely monitor guidance from appropriate bodies.”

When I noted a third time that Social Science One has not ruled out active manipulation research and again raised the question of whether Nature would accept the same lack of informed consent or right to opt out for any other large dataset, Nature stated “We believe these questions regarding consent and the ability to opt-out are important. As these discussions evolve, we will monitor and engage with relevant bodies as appropriate. We have no further comment at this stage.”

It is intriguing that all three responses from Nature include a variant of their initial statement’s “we are aware that the research ethics landscape is evolving, and we keep our editorial policies under regular review in order to best serve the community." Given the across-the-board weakening of ethical protections across academia when it comes to “big data” research it is notable that Nature did not take the stronger stance of its peer publication Science in expressing that research which removes informed consent and the right to opt out raises “concern.”

When asked how Nature reconciles its statement that all studies “must include with their submission a statement confirming that informed consent was obtained from all subjects” with the fact that Social Science One studies do not offer informed consent, Nature declined to comment. It is therefore unclear why it sees Social Science One’s lack of informed consent as acceptable when its own statement would appear to suggest that such studies would not be accepted for publication. It is also unclear whether its apparent exemption of this policy applies only to Social Science One or whether any IRB-approved research that mass harvested personal private data for research without informed consent and against the specifically stated demands of at least some of those users not to include their data would also be acceptable.

APA offered only that “APA’s Publications and Communications Board sets policy for APA Journals. The P&C Board has not examined this issue.”

Given the public outcry over last year’s “Gaydar” study, it is notable that APA apparently did not spend any time over the following year to examine more deeply the ethical questions posed by social media data mining. One might have assumed that the organization’s surprise at the community’s reaction to the ethics of the Gaydar study would have caused it to launch a review of how it handles research on large social media datasets and whether it needed to amend its policies to explicitly address research that did not offer informed consent or the right to opt out.

Putting this all together, it seems that the era of informed consent and the right to opt out of research has come to an end in the “big data” era. Only Science went so far as to label the ethical practices of Social Science One of “concern” and that there would have been further conversations over whether the lack of informed consent and ability to opt out might actually preclude their publication in Science. Four years ago PNAS labeled the lack of informed consent and right to opt out in Facebook data research as a “matter of concern” so severe that it warranted a formal Editorial Expression of Concern, while two years later noting that it would still publish such research again and now in 2018 it no longer even mentions the right to opt out, while allowing informed consent to simply be waived. Nature’s apparent contradiction between its requirement of informed consent and its allowance of Social Science One research that lacks informed consent is difficult to resolve, while its repeated statements that ethical standards are evolving is troubling. APA’s apparently failure to take last year’s Gaydar study and its ethical lessons to heart, coupled with PNAS’ change of heart suggests that even when there are large public outcries regarding the ethics of a study that force a journal to publicly comment on its ethical standards, its back to business as usual shortly thereafter. In the end, none of the four journals would commit to prohibiting research that lacks informed consent or the right to opt out, whether it originated from Social Science One or whether it resulted from a random faculty member using an army of crawlers to mass harvest data on their own. So long as an IRB approved the research, including under the public use exemptions that permitted the 2014 study and last year's Gaydar study, it is fair game.

The refusal of Social Science One or Facebook to offer the right to opt out of research is particularly chilling given the kinds of research that may be permitted and that has been conducted by the company and other researchers in the past.

In the end, the fact that in today’s big data world the public is no longer afforded the basic right to opt out of research conducted by academics anywhere in the world and where funding agencies and top journals refuse to rule out publishing studies that include data or manipulation of users against their will and where they have repeatedly asked to be excluded from that research is simply Orwellian. It seems Facebook has learned little from its privacy scandals over the years, while the very academic community that four years ago condemned such work now embraces it. In its rush once again to make its users’ private data available to others against their will, the Facebook’s promise of “privacy first” rings hollow, while the academic world that once condemned its data practices now rush to mimic them. It seems the last semblance of privacy has finally been swept away from our digital world as we rush rush rush toward our new Orwellian world.

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2018/08/13/social-science-one-and-how-top-journals-view-the-ethics-of-facebook-data-research/

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