Consumer, Privacy Groups Seek Internal Facebook Documents

Consumer and digital privacy groups have asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to release internal documents cited in a news story about Facebook collecting psychological info on young users that could allow advertisers to identify their emotions and mood shifts in real time.

The news story, in The Australian newspaper, said that research was conducted without users' knowledge.

In the letter being sent to Zuckerberg May 10, a copy of which was obtained by B&C, more than two dozen groups including Consumers Union and the Center for Digital Democracy, said that at least based on the report, Facebook and its advertisers are taking advantage of teenagers and the company needs to come clean on just what its practices are given that it is such a powerful force in the lives of those young people.

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Facebook has said the research was something of an aberration and the company does not engage in that kind of emotion-based targeted marketing. But the groups said that does not resolve their concern about the fact that the analysis was commissioned in the first place and what it might indicate about Facebook's "actual" marketing practices.

They say the only way to address those concerns is for the company to publicly release relevant documents and materials, along with a fuller explanation on what it did mean to do with the analysis.

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They also want any research the company has done on biometric responses to content and applications (Instagram, geo-location), and how Facebook works with advertisers to provide data for youth-targeted marketing.

That information is "simply far too concerning to keep concealed," they told Zuckerberg.

Also among those signing on to the letter were Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We take the concerns raised by these organizations seriously," Facebook said in a statement. "Last week we reached out to several of these groups to discuss the research, and together agreed to set a meeting. We look forward to working with them.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.