Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg: how not to say sorry

Sheryl Sandberg charmed the media and got to meeting the PM and the president during her recent visit to India. But the storm created by Facebook's experiment on its users' emotions refuses to die down. One privacy group in the US is reported to have filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission.

I have been trying to figure out what precisely was the violation of privacy involved. I must confess the news reports are less clear than I would have liked. Here is what I read in the Guardian:
The study conducted over one week in 2012 and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, hid "a small percentage" of emotional words from peoples' news feeds, without their knowledge, to test what effect that had on the statuses or "likes" that they then posted or reacted to.
I guess this is what is being interpreted as an attempt to manipulate the emotions of Facebook users. Another article, written by Geeta Seshu, quotes from the study itself:
The experiment manipulated the extent to which people (N = 689,003) were exposed to emotional expressions in their News Feed. This tested whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors, in particular whether exposure to emotional content led people to post content that was consistent with the exposure—thereby testing whether exposure to verbal affective expressions leads to similar verbal expressions, a form of emotional contagion.
Leaving aside the allegations of violation of privacy, there is the matter of Sandberg's reaction to the episode. Lucy Kellaway, FT's columnist quotes Sandberg as saying that the experiment had been “poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologise. We never meant to upset you.”

Kellaway calls this a "perfect lesson in how not to apologise" and proceeds to spell out why in the most scathing terms:
This was bad on four scores. She didn’t take personal responsibility. She didn’t say sorry for the thing itself. Her “didn’t mean to upset you” was patronising, and worse than that, a lie. The experiment was specifically designed to upset some users, by showing them negative comments. That was the whole point.
Geeta Seshu points that India has 100 million Facebook users, next only in size to that of the US and likely to overtake the US soon. The privacy issues are significant, Seshu warns and she thinks Modi should have raised the issue with Sandberg:

But coming back to India and India’s huge population of Facebook users, in the absence of a privacy law, there is a dire need for much more debate and understanding on how much of our data is up for grabs and how much of control we have over its use/misuse.  
Sadly, our Prime Minister, who should have been more alert to issues of privacy and surveillance, given the disclosure last week that the US government’s NSA had authorized surveillance of his own political party, seems to have looked the other way. 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sir we would like to know about your analysis on is really surprising as to why the media is full of praises about BJP's budget and no criticism...the other hand any budget or proposal proposed by UPA was never praised so much...i dont understand media..i dont favor any political party but is BJP all that great???