Facebook is investigating how confidential research detailing its ability to track the emotional states of users did not comply with its internal review procedures.
The Australian cited a leaked internal company document marked “confidential” to accuse the social media firm of aiming advertising for “moments when young people need a confidence boost”.
Analysis of user interaction with social media posts — such as likes, shares and comments – could tip off Facebook when people felt “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless” and a “failure”, reported The Australian, and allow it to serve advertising customised for the situation.
In response, Facebook — while acknowledging the existence of the research — denied on Monday afternoon that it targets advertising depending on how the user feels emotionally.
“The premise of the article is misleading. Facebook does not offer tools to target people based on their emotional state,” the company said in a statement.
“The analysis done by an Australian researcher was intended to help marketers understand how people express themselves on Facebook. It was never used to target ads and was based on data that was anonymous and aggregated.”
The document, shared with an advertiser under a non-disclosure agreement, detailed Facebook’s ability to reportedly gather “psychological insights” on 1.9 million high school students, 1.5 million tertiary students as well as 3 million other young Australians in the workforce.
Facebook Australia’s national agency relationship managers David Fernandez and Andy Sinn are named by The Australian as the authors of the research.
Facebook stated that the company has “an established process” to review research, but that this project “did not follow that process”.
“We are reviewing the details to correct the oversight,” stated the firm.
Facebook did not specify whether such analysis is performed on young people in other parts of the world.
The leaked presentation also reportedly contained analysis of information such as relationship status, location, number of friends and login frequency.
The Australian also claimed the document described Facebook’s ability to identify people going through moments of “looking good and body confidence” and “working out & losing weight”.