The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Has Facebook Gone Too Far? New Consumer Research Tests Ethical Boundaries

In case you missed yesterday's headlines about Facebook's effort to redefine the relationship it has with their consumers - and the product they assume they are using - here is a sampling for you to review.

Facebook Tinkers With Users' Emotions in News Feed

Academics Question The Value Of Facebook’s Controversial Research

Facebook emotion study breached ethical guidelines

Facebook made users depressed in secret research: Site deleted positive comments from friends

These headlines about a previous year's research study sit eerily next to stories like this one from last winter.

Facebook used by cops to thwart George Washington Bridge suicide

And this one from around the same time, when the short days of winter and the holidays loom large.

Coroner warns of dangers of Facebook after student, 19, targeted by young women bullies online hanged himself.

In addition to the ethics questions this research raises, these stories made me want to go back and see what other things I have allowed Facebook to do in that ridiculous terms of service agreement I consented to before using the site. And it's not just the Facebook ToS, I want to go back and read the ToS of every cloud based service I use. The trouble is that even if I do read them, I still won't understand what defines some of the most essential terms, like "research" or "promotion", within them. Why? Because it is up to the individual brands to fill them with meaning, based upon how they are executed.

Another Facebook brand, Instagram, had its own controversy about its terms of service in late 2012 and early 2013, not long after Facebook researchers manipulated the feeds to test their theories on positive and negative posts. (Although Facebook's study occured in 2012, the results did not make it to a broadly published forum at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in June of this year.)  Instagram's new policies, reported by the NY Times Bits Blog, state:

“You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you,” the new terms say. This means that photographs uploaded to Instagram could end up in an advertisement on the service or on Facebook.

The key takeaway here is that a brand chooses to define itself by accepting some boundaries and ignoring others.  The more we use a brand's products or services, even in the wake of this kind of revelation, the more we provide them our tacit approval to continue to gerrymander our relationship.


UPDATE on 7/1/14:

Watch this related NBC Nightly News Report on the topic of Terms of Service policies across our online services.


More Related Links:

Important lessons from the Instagram controversy

New figures reveal the photo sharing service Instagram has lost almost 50 per cent of its daily users in less than a month   

On Facebook, Likes Become Ads.


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