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Facebook gives peek at how it taps user data for research

The company says it has a multistep process for green-lighting research that involves info on users. Ethicists are involved.

Facebook isn't researching user data all willy-nilly. Instead, there's a review process that squares research with the company's privacy policy and involves ethicists and experts from inside and outside the company. That's according to a blog post published Wednesday by two people involved in managing research at Facebook.

"Research only begins when the full group agrees that the benefits -- to Facebook, our community, and our society -- are clear and present, and that potential downsides have been addressed," wrote Facebook Public Policy Research Manager Molly Cohn Jackman and Research Management Lead Lauri Kanerva.

The company's research has gotten its share of negative press. That's because not only has Facebook research reached into the vast terabytes of personal user information for insights on humanity, but it's also seemed to reach out and touch our lives. That was the criticism levied at a study that appeared to play with people's moods, as well as a not-so-reassuring promise not to try to influence the 2016 presidential elections.

Facebook research that looks at whether a new color or shape works best for a button won't trigger a review from an internal panel of five research reviewers, Jackman and Kanerva wrote Wednesday, but when research focuses on a particular group of people or "topics that may be considered deeply personal," the review process kicks in.

"When in doubt, we like to have more eyes on a research proposal than fewer," they wrote.