As fast as Facebook is growing and as many smart decisions as it has made technologically, I am amazed by some of its miscues. The latest is to passively allow a research study of an unnamed East Coast college over Facebook. Conducted by Harvard and UCLA, this study will report on users’ social networking values, behaviors and attitudes.
I work for a social computing property called Zude. Our reason for being is to promote user freedom, so internally we often find ourselves in discussions about what we should allow users to do on the site. We most always decide in favor of freedom. So, were this research project to take place on Zude, you would think I’d be okay with it. Wrong.
In my view the project should be allowed, but the users should be alerted they are being studied. Let them decide whether or not to participate. As far as I can tell from the press the Facebook study has received, the unsuspecting college students don’t know they are being monitored and that is an invasion of their privacy.
Shopping malls let research people in to conduct research but you see them coming a mile away. Would they allow researchers in with surveillance cameras? I think not.
Facebook, college kids are your franchise. You have just found another way to piss them off.