Did Facebook cross the line when conducting human behavior social experiments last year? I think so. When conducting scientific research on human subjects investigators are held to very high standards. Currently there is global outrage over the experiment and government regulators from several countries are currently looking into the matter a bit more closely. As I described in my blog a few days ago, Facebook recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reporting on a study that they conducted in September 2013. In this study, researchers purposefully manipulated the News Feeds of randomly selected users in order to determine effects on mood and emotion. None of the subjects were aware of the experiment and none had provided specific informed consent.
Many academic investigators as well as social media experts from across the globe have taken issue with the lack of specific informed consent and the utilization of subjects without any notification–until the paper was published in a well respected academic journal this last week. Some groups have petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Facebook has had very little to say–other than “we are sorry…and we are adopting stricter internal review standards for future research.”
How can we avoid situations like this in the future?
Obviously, with the Facebook situation, public outrage and potential regulatory action by governments in many parts of the world may help limit these types of activities by social media platforms in the future. Currently, several countries including both the US and many throughout Europe are discussing ways to limit privacy incursions such as the Facebook experiment in the future.
Unfortunately, the utilization of data by large social media platforms and organizations may not be the biggest threat to you and your privacy. Hackers and other criminals are grabbing data from consumers–without their knowledge–from mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. These devices are placed in the hands of children, and often lie around the house and are frequently left “on” and unattended.
One inventor from New York City–Michael Sorrentino– has created a new device that can help keep you, your family and your data a little safer.
Called the iPatch case, this device may change the way you think about your mobile device and its self contained camera. Hackers and other criminals can actually utilize your own smartphone camera to take pictures of your home or office and can even build a 3D model of your house. This can result in identity theft, theft of real property or utilizing your images without consent for whatever purpose the criminals deem necessary. Disguised as a harmless camera application that is often downloaded, these programs can access your camera and obtain images without your knowledge or consent. Other malware programs have been developed and innocently disguised as harmless games or apps for download. Software has been developed (and sold by hackers for less than $50 dollars) that can infiltrate your device and control your cameras–stealing sensitive documents, creating models of a home or office or even snapping shots of your children.
The device–called the iPatch is now in development. Mr Sorrentino is currently working on the prototype and will be marketing the device once produced. WIth the iPatch device one flip of a switch will cover and eliminate photo functionality from both the front and back camera of your smartphone. The device is being developed through crowd-sourcing efforts and is expected to enter production this year.
Mobile technology is changing the way we interact and how we share information. Issues such as the Facebook “experiment” should give us all pause to consider our safety as we continue to embrace social media, mobile technology and information sharing. In the future, innovations such as the iPatch are likely to continue to emerge and will ultimately provide us with more options for staying safe while staying engaged and connected in our busy technology driven lives. Most importantly, as parents, we must set good “mobile behavior” examples for our children and take measures to improve the security of our devices and our information. Social Media is embedded in the fabric of our lives–and this is a good thing–we must, however, take care to continue to be vigilant and protect ourselves and our families from the new world of cyber-crime.