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Facebook COO Sandberg issues grovelling apology over emotion experiment

Facebook has been forced to admit that it communicated “poorly” with the public over a psychological experiment that has been roundly criticised by many observers and pushed its user trust levels southwards.

COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke out publicly for the first time since the controversy erupted last weekend and explained the social media firm should have been clearer about exactly what the scheme entailed.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sandberg said while in New Delhi, according to the Wall Street Journal. “And for that communication we apologise. We never meant to upset you.”

Related: A closer look at Facebook’s experiment with its users’ emotions

The furore centres on a one-week experiment that Facebook carried out back in 2012. It involved around 700,000 user news feeds and saw the company manipulate them to show more negative or positive posts in order to work out whether it had a knock-on effect on the user’s own posts.

“We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share opinions and emotions,” Sandberg added.

Even with this grovelling apology the Information Commissioner’s Office is probing whether the experiment, which was carried out by Facebook in conjunction with US universities Cornell and California, has flouted UK data protection law in any way.

Without the ICO investigation it’s still clear that user trust in the site has hit an embarrassing low and as much was evident in our poll earlier this week that found 83 per cent of respondents admitting to losing trust in the site. It’s unlikely Sandberg’s comments will prove comforting for many users and it won’t be the last we hear of the experiment.