April 27, 2017

Facebook's Emotional Manipulation Study: When Ethical Worlds Collide

The research community is buzzing about the ethics of Facebook’s now-famous experiment in which it manipulated the emotional content of users’ news feeds to see how that would affect users’ activity on the site. (The paper, by Adam Kramer of Facebook, Jamie Guillory of UCSF, and Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell, appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)

The main dispute seems to be between people such as James Grimmelmann and Zeynep Tufecki who see this as a clear violation of research ethics; versus people such as Tal Yarkoni who see it as consistent with ordinary practices for a big online company like Facebook.

One explanation for the controversy is the large gap between the ethical standards of industry practice, versus the research community’s ethical standards for human subjects studies.
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How the DMCA Chills Research

I have a new piece in Slate, on how the DMCA chills security research. In the piece, I tell three stories of DMCA threats against Alex Halderman and me, and talk about how Congress can fix the problem.

The Chilling Effects of the DMCA: The outdated copyright law doesn’t just hurt consumers—it cripples researchers.

“These days almost everything we do in life is mediated by technology. Too often the systems we rely on are black boxes that we aren’t allowed to adjust, repair, or—too often—even to understand. A new generation of students wants to open them up, see how they work, and improve them. These students are the key to our future productivity—not to mention the security of our devices today. What we need is for the law to get out of their way.”

Making Excuses for Fees on Electronic Public Records

I recently posted about my draft bill to make electronic public access to federal court records free (#openpacer). Since then, I’ve had some very positive feedback from members of Congress, and I expect that the bill will be introduced with bipartisan and bicameral support once the public settles on the right language (the bill text is open for comment).

Schultze Hogan LetterIn the meantime, I wrote a letter to Judge Hogan, Director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts. I wanted to make the case directly to him that the courts should do the right thing — and that what they are doing right now is against the law. I was assured by his colleagues on the bench that Hogan is a reasonable and judicious person, and that he would at least hear me out. Yesterday, his administrative assistant replied to me. She said that he had forwarded the letter to the people in the Public Access and Records Management Division (PARMD), and that he didn’t want to talk to me. She said that I could contact Public Affairs Office if I wanted to discuss it further. The PARMD folks have, in the past, forwarded my requests for things like the congressionally mandated Judiciary Information Technology Fund Report to the Public Affairs folks, who of course never respond.

So, rather than participating in yet another bureaucratic run-around, I thought I’d outline the series of poor excuses that the Administrative Office has offered to justify their fees. If you’re a lawyer reading this, I invite you to consider what a lawsuit might look like. My email address is

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