Because nearly one billion users produce a lot of data, Facebook has had a hand in publishing more than 30 research papers since 2009, including research (.pdf) that may link social-networking activity and loneliness.
But outside researchers have been unable to validate those studies because Facebook refused to release the underlying raw data, citing the need to protect users’ privacy. Now Facebook is considering changes to its policy. Nature News reports:
Facebook is now exploring a plan that could allow external researchers to check its work in future by inspecting the data sets and methods used to produce a particular study. A paper currently submitted to a journal could prove to be a test case, after the journal said that allowing third-party academics the opportunity to verify the findings was a condition of publication.
If the scheme were to go ahead, it would apply to papers after publication. Scholars would have to travel to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, because Facebook would not risk sending the data electronically, and they would have access to aggregated data only, and no personally identifiable information. The company would also allow access for only a limited period – and contingent upon researchers signing a non-disclosure agreement. Marlow says, however, that these conditions should not keep researchers from being openly critical about matters related to the published paper such as technique or data processing.
External scholars would not be allowed to conduct their own studies on the data sets.
This post first appeared at Stanford Medical School’s Scope Blog.