TIME Technology & Media

HBO Will Finally Start Selling Web-Only Subscriptions Next Year

HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo speak onstage at the Executive Session panel during the HBO portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Association on July 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills.
HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and HBO Programming President Michael Lombardo speak onstage at the Executive Session panel during the HBO portion of the 2014 Summer Television Critics Association on July 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills. Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images

Viewers won't have to pay for a pricey TV package to watch HBO shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire

HBO will begin selling web-only subscriptions in 2015, a major move for the television giant as it seeks to attract a younger generation of consumers more likely to skip paying for cable television in favor of streaming services like Netflix.

HBO CEO Richard Plepler said at a Time Warner investors’ event Wednesday that HBO will launch a “stand alone, over the top” version of its network beginning in 2015 that won’t require a pay TV subscription, Re/code reports. HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner.

The new offering would likely mean that viewers will be able to watch hit HBO shows like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and others without having to pay for a TV service, similar to Netflix’s model for watching shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. However, HBO has so far offered few details about what content will be available on the service. HBO recently put some of its older but well-regarded content, such as The Wire, available to watch on Amazon’s streaming service, Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Time Warner made $4.9 billion in revenue from HBO last year, but it could attract more TV viewers by offering its standalone web service to customers who want to leave cable or don’t already pay for cable.

[Re/code]

TIME feminism

When Men Are the Loudest Feminists

Male and female symbols
Fanatic Studio—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RF

Can—and should—men be spokespeople for underrepresented women?

“Where are all the women?”

That was the question Vivek Wadhwa’s wife whispered to him at the 2009 “Crunchies Awards” – the tech industry’s Oscars.

It’s been five years since her question woke Wadhwa to the male homogeneity of Silicon Valley. Since then, the professor, researcher, entrepreneur, and Foreign Policy “Top 100 Global Thinker” has re-routed his career to study gender in the tech industry, finding that “despite how we glamorize it, Silicon Valley has a dark side.” He saw that dark side up close when industry insiders and strangers alike unleashed vitriolic tirades against him on social media and in real life for bringing attention to his wife’s question. His response to these critics? “Call me a feminist,” he says. “It will make my day.”

Wadhwa’s desire to expose these gender disparities for a general audience and to create a forum for women in tech whose voices weren’t being heard was a driving force behind his recently published book Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology. And yet, part of the response to the book has raised an even bigger question about the gender parity movement in all fields, not just tech. It’s one that Emma Watson also recently addressed. Can – and should – men be spokespeople for underrepresented women?

A form of that question came out at a recent New America event where Wadhwa spoke to Breadwinning and Caregiving Program Director Liza Mundy about the inspiration and impact of his new book. It also popped up on Twitter during, and after, the event.

Why, one audience member wanted to know, was Wadhwa speaking for women? Would he cede a keynote speech to a female speaker or insist that a producer contact a woman to do a media appearance in his place? Wadhwa indicated that he is mindful of the dissonance but also realistic about his media appeal: he has a platform and wants to use it. Right or wrong, he is now a prominent voice on gender issues in Silicon Valley, and he views his choice as a dichotomous one: to speak, or not to speak, about the injustices confronting women and minority entrepreneurs. If you see injustice and you don’t speak, he said, you are complicit in it.

He emphasized one particularly insidious injustice that often goes unnoticed: the process of “pattern recognition,” when Silicon Valley venture capitalists choose who to fund based on a proven preferential “type.” It’s a wordsmith’s code for overt discrimination, and something he spotlights in his introduction to the book.

Exposing “pattern recognition” lays bare the deeper sexism and double standards common in Silicon Valley. While PayPal’s Peter Thiel has garnered praise for offering high school students money not to attend college, Wadhwa says too many VCs and tech executives still get away with lamenting the dearth of qualified female and minority candidates in the “pipeline” of STEM education. In a supposed meritocracy, why must minority applicants possess postgraduate degrees in computer science while board members of companies like Twitter can get away with having no degree at all?

But if we are talking meritocracy, the facts on women should speak for themselves. After his awakening in 2009, Wadhwa revisited his own research studies on entrepreneurship to incorporate and analyze data on gender, a perspective he freely admits he overlooked the first time around. He found that female tech entrepreneurs showed lower rates of failure, were more capital-efficient and had parity with men in STEM education. And yet women were virtually invisible in venture capital and on the boards and management of top companies like Apple. A recent study from the Diana Project at Babson College found that as recently as last year, 97 percent of the companies that got VC funding were led by men and only 15 percent of the companies had a woman on their executive teams.

To Wadhwa’s mind, Silicon Valley has always been an unrepentant boys’ club where women and people of color are barred from the inner circles and the investment bounty of venture capitalists always seems to find its way into the coffers of entrepreneurs who look more like Mark Zuckerberg than Michelle Obama.

He recounted several stories from Innovating Women to illustrate his disgust with the gendered underbelly of Silicon Valley’s startup culture. Kim Polese of Marimba sold her company for half a billion dollars but became a cautionary tale of “failure,” while Heidi Roizen, a rare female venture capitalist, was subjected to sexual harassment and outright assault by colleagues and potential clients. Mundy, who moderated the event, raised the counter-example of older, more established companies like Xerox and GM, where gender diversity initiatives have been largely successful and where HR policies against harassment structure a more traditional workplace environment. As the workplace continues to evolve, Mundy asked, how should we promote innovation and protect employees from harassment and discrimination?

The book is striking a chord with readers who are asking themselves that very question. Wadhwa gets emails every day from women thanking him or telling him they are giving it to their daughters who, unlike their mothers, now have access to girls’ coding camps and the like to develop their confidence and skills. This response to the book, in combination with a growing network of both institutional and informal female mentorship and Google’s recent decision to break ranks with other tech giants by sharing their personnel data on gender, emboldens his relatively positive outlook for the future. His next frontier is to demand that VCs release their own gender data, just as Google has, and to erode what he called the “family unfriendly” nature of many startups.

Women are, in Wadhwa’s words, “now primed to lead the next generation of innovation: every data point you look at says the future belongs to women.”

And he has no plans to stop promoting that message. “The good news is that women, men and the media are now talking about it,” he said.

Jane Greenway Carr is an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Public Fellow and a Contributing Editor at New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Technology & Media

Facebook Changing Research Methods After Controversial Mood Study

Facebook Inc. Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings Figures
The Facebook Inc. logo is displayed an Apple Inc. iPad Air past water droplets in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently"

Facebook has issued a mea culpa for a controversial experiment on its users that gained widespread attention over the summer, promising to revamp its research practices going forward.

In a blog post, Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer acknowledged the social network mishandled a 2012 study that altered the types of posts some users saw in their News Feeds to in order to determine whether such a change would affect the emotional tone of their own posts. The results of the study were published this June, angering some users because no one gave prior consent for the study nor did it clear any kind of review board, a step typically undertaken by academic research organizations.

“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently,” Schroepfer wrote. “For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”

The company is now instituting a new framework for handling both internal experiments and research that may later be published. Research that is studying specific groups of people or relates to “deeply personal” content (such as emotions) will go through an “enhanced review process” before being approved. Facebook has also set up a panel of employees from different parts of the company, such as the privacy and legal teams, that will review potential research projects. The social network will also incorporate education on research practices into the introductory training that is given to new company engineers and present all the public research it conducts on a single website.

Facebook did not provide any detail on what the enhanced review process would look like or whether external auditors would review the company’s research. The company also retains the right to conduct any experiments it deems appropriate through its data use policy.

TIME Technology & Media

This Small Cable Operator May Help Unravel the Pay TV Industry

Obama Appears On Daily Show With Jon Stewart
President Barack Obama chats with Daily Show host Jon Stewart during a commercial break in taping on October 27, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Pool—Getty Images

Suddenlink has dropped Viacom channels from its lineup, perhaps permanently. That's a cardinal sin in the world of pay-TV.

A cable company and a TV network have been in a dispute over how much the network’s content is really worth. This may sound like a familiar tale, but there’s an unusual ending this time. Suddenlink, a St. Louis-based operator with more than 1.1 million subscribers, dropped Viacom’s collection of well-known TV channels from its lineup Wednesday, and they’re probably not coming back anytime soon.

Negotiations over carriage fees, the amount that pay-TV operators pay network owners to carry their channels, often turn into very public spats. Time Warner Cable kicked CBS-owned networks off its channel lineup for a month in 2013, and The Weather Channel went so far as to lobby Congress to force DirecTV to keep the channel on its airwaves earlier this year. In both instances, the two sides eventually reached a truce.

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards this time. Because Suddenlink couldn’t come to an agreement with Viacom on appropriate carriage fees, the cable company has replaced mainstays on the channel dial like MTV and Comedy Central with new additions such as FXX and the Hallmark Channel. Suddenlink thinks its customers won’t miss Viacom’s offerings much. “It’s unfortunate we could not reach agreement,” spokesman Pete Abel said in an email. “But we have moved on and are excited about the new channels we’re adding and our customers have told us they would like to have.”

In the traditional pay-TV model, a cable company dumping Viacom’s channels could be viewed as a cardinal sin. Historically, network owners and cable operators have worked in lockstep to keep their highly lucrative system intact. Operators agree to buy up channels from media conglomerates like Viacom in unwieldy bundles, which means a 26-year-old bachelor is stuck paying for Nickelodeon. Network owners in turn make sure that having a pricey cable subscription is pretty much the only legal way for viewers to see TV shows as they’re airing. Content creators also charge new entrants to the pay-TV space a higher carriage fee for their channels, according to Erik Brannon, a TV industry analyst at IHS Screen Digest. Intel had been planning a pay-TV service that would deliver live television content over the Internet, but the costs of acquiring programming were prohibitively high.

Suddenlink tried to upend this long-standing formula by asking Viacom to sell just a few of the channels that are popular with its customers, like TV Land and Comedy Central. Suddenlink says that Viacom responded by increasing its price demands even more. On a website about the dispute, Viacom says that Suddenlink abruptly stopped negotiating and reneged on a last-minute proposal that met the cable operator’s demands. “We remain committed to reaching a deal so that our viewers will be able to watch their favorite shows,” Viacom wrote on the site. Viacom did not respond to an email from TIME seeking further comment.

The Suddenlink decision could inspire other small and mid-size operators, already being squeezed by subscriber declines, refuse carriage fee increases from media giants. Sixty smaller cable companies, including one with half a million subscribers, lost Viacom’s channels in the spring and haven’t yet restored them. “Mid-tier operators and small operators are going to have to look at the profitability of carrying networks vs. their viewership,” Brannon says. “When you’re in the position of Suddenlink . . . you absolutely do not have the buying power that Comcast or DirecTV have.”

At the same time, channel owners are becoming more receptive to the Internet-based TV services of which they were once wary. Viacom has agreed to offer 22 of its channels on a new, Internet-based TV service that Sony is launching later this year, the first such deal the media giant has made public. The revenue generated from that deal, which Brannon says probably included a guarantee by Sony of a minimum number of subscribers, might make Viacom less concerned about the activities of the smaller traditional cable companies.

Whether these strategic shifts will benefit consumers, networks or cable operators remains to be seen. Suddenlink is hoping that losing Viacom won’t hurt its subscriber numbers, but Cable One, the largest of the sixty cable companies to dump Viacom in the spring, doubled its subscriber loss the quarter it removed Viacom’s channels. And while Internet-based pay-TV services like Sony’s promise an improved user experience, no one has yet broached the topic of offering channels “a la carte” and allowing customers to pick exactly what content they’d like to buy.

Still, the once-sacred marriage between cable operators and network owners is under obvious strain. That leaves room for new entrants to claim a piece of the market—hopefully for many, with business models that are more in line with customer preferences. “Carriage fee negotiations are going to become increasingly contentious,” warns Brannon. “Not only at Viacom but other channel groups.”

TIME Smartphones

How to Get a Free iPhone 6 and Some Cash, Too

Apple Inc. Reveals Bigger-Screen iPhones Alongside Wearables
An attendee displays the new Apple Inc. iPhone 6, left, and iPhone 6 Plus for a photograph after a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif. on Sept. 9, 2014. Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Several new trade-in programs will let you obtain with a two-year contract an iPhone 6 for free—and also leave you with extra cash

If you’re desperate for an iPhone 6, then you’re in luck: Competing trade-in programs between major U.S. carriers have made it so that many customers will not only get a free iPhone 6, but also some extra cash.

Verizon announced Tuesday a new trade-in program in which customers swap in their old iPhones and sign a two-year contract for a free iPhone 6, according to Verizon. Specifically, Verizon will collect working iPhones of the 4, 4S, 5, 5S and 5C models in exchange for a $200 gift card, which can then be credited to the $199 16GB iPhone 6.

Verizon’s deal, while glamorous, isn’t actually the best one you can get—but it’s probably the most convenient. Several other trade in programs through non-wireless carriers have surfaced offering more lucrative deals, though they haven’t yet announced when and if they’ll carry the iPhone 6. Walmart, for example, is offering $300 for a 16GB iPhone 5, and Amazon is offering $225 for a 16GB iPhone 5. All of these offers are independent of your wireless carrier.

If you’re not a Verizon customer, then there’s even better news—not only will your iPhone 6 probably be free, you’ll likely also profit from it.

Sprint and T-Mobile both announced trade-in programs that will match buyback programs of all major U.S. carriers—including Verizon. While Sprint currently offers deals with credit up to $300, T-Mobile has said it’ll not only match all major buyback programs, but it’ll also add an extra $50. In other words: if you’re with T-Mobile, you’ll be profiting at least $50 from your trade-in program. AT&T told TIME it will announce its trade-in program by Sept. 12, when pre-orders of the iPhone 6 begin.

It’s unusual for carriers to offer such heavy discounts for a new product, but the nationwide craze for Apple’s latest product is a prime opportunity for carriers to steal and attract new customers. Generally, prices of older models are often slashed to maintain sales and attract new customers: Several major carriers sell the older iPhone 4S at 99 cents with at two-year contract. And in some cases, new products that are performing far below expectations—like Amazon’s Fire phone—are offered at steep discounts to remain afloat in the market.

If you do decide to participate in one of the many trade-in programs, here’s what you need to know about getting rid of your old iPhone.

TIME Regulation

Verizon Settles for $7.4 Million After Failing to Notify Customers of Privacy Rights

The FCC said about 2 million new customers weren't given a notice about opting out of disclosing their personal info for marketing purposes

Verizon will pay $7.4 million to settle charges the company failed to give about 2 million new customers the choice to opt out of allowing their personal information to be used in marketing campaigns, government regulators announced Wednesday.

Federal regulators found Verizon failed to send privacy opt-out notices to some new customers as early as 2006. Verizon officials failed to discover the error until Sept. 2012, then waited 126 days before notifying the Federal Communications Commission about the lapse, federal regulators wrote in the statement.

Verizon’s settlement with the FCC marks the largest ever by a phone company over a privacy matter, according to the Washington Post.

“In today’s increasingly connected world, it is critical that every phone company honor its duty to inform customers of their privacy choices and then to respect those choices,” said Travis LeBlanc, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out.”

Verizon, which was scrutinized by the FCC last month for its “throttling policy,” said that the lack of opt-out notices issue has been resolved.

“The issue here was that a notice required by FCC rules inadvertently was not provided to certain of Verizon’s wireline customers before they received marketing materials from Verizon for other Verizon services that might be of interest to them,” the company said in a statement. “It did not involve a data breach or an unauthorized disclosure of customer information to third parties.”

Under the settlement’s terms, Verizon will be required to include opt-out notices on every bill—not just the first bill—and to be monitored to ensure that customers are receiving proper notices of their privacy rights, the FCC said.

TIME Technology & Media

Time Warner Cable Outage Raises Questions About Comcast Merger

National Cable and Telecommunications Association Cable Show
The Time Warner Cable Inc. logo is seen on the exhibit floor during the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Cable Show in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's a redundancy issue

Updated 1:05 p.m.

Thousands of Time Warner Cable customers woke up Wednesday morning, took a shower, poured their morning coffee, opened up their computers, and… nothing.

A massive outage that TWC later said was the result of an infrastructure problem triggered during routine maintenance affected subscribers from the East Coast to Los Angeles, as shown by a map in which wide swaths of the country glowed a bright, troublesome red—a color that probably matched the faces of customers who tried calling customer service hotlines only to be met with a busy signal.

Thankfully for TWC customers, the outage struck in the wee hours of the morning, when big maintenance projects are typically undertaken exactly because there’s a lighter load and fewer folks who stand to be affected if something goes wrong. The issue was also fixed relatively quickly, considering the number of people it touched. But Wednesday’s glitch could cause headaches later on for TWC—and even more so for Comcast, the cable and content behemoth that’s looking to merge with TWC in a landmark deal that, if allowed, would create the single largest Internet provider in the country.

Comcast can’t go right ahead and buy Time Warner Cable like you can buy a magazine at a newsstand. A deal this big—worth about $45 billion—and one raising significant antitrust and public interest concerns needs to get the government’s go-ahead before it can be completed. Two federal agencies have the power to put the kibosh on the whole shebang: the Department of Justice, which will evaluate antitrust issues, and the Federal Communications Commission, which could block the merger on broadly-defined public interest grounds.

In preliminary hearings and statements about their proposed merger, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have argued the deal should go ahead as proposed because it wouldn’t significantly change the cable industry’s competitive makeup: Comcast and TWC, the companies accurately say, don’t currently compete in specific geographic territories, so individual customers won’t really be losing an option for getting cable (or fiber) to their home.

But as the anti-merger crowd says, a merged Comcast-TWC would have unprecedented size and scale both in content delivery and creation, especially when considering its recent purchase of NBCUniversal. That size and vertical integration, anti-merger advocates say, would mean Comcast could really turn the screws on the few cable or fiber companies with which it would compete in various regions, like Verizon, Charter and Cablevision. If a post-merger Comcast chose to engage in anti-competitive practices or if its regional rivals just couldn’t keep up, those advocates say, it will eventually be the consumers who lose out.

However, Wednesday’s outage brings up a point that hasn’t been talked about much in this debate: Physical infrastructure redundancy.

If TWC’s Internet infrastructure—the routers, switches and other physical stuff which help get Internet traffic into and out of your home—is added to Comcast’s, that would result in a pretty giant network. Therein lies a potential redundancy issue: If millions of post-merger subscribers are on the Comcast network and a catastrophic failure like Wednesday’s happens, millions more people would potentially be affected than would otherwise be the case. And in a post-merger world, those customers could wind up with fewer options for leaving Comcast if they got fed up with network issues, putting less competitive pressure on the company to address any network issues that arise.

Comcast’s network engineers are undoubtedly already thinking about this, but as the debate over the Comcast-TWC merger continues to heat up, expect this map to show up again — and sure enough, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon he’s ordered an investigation of the Time Warner Cable outage as part of a merger review.

“Dependable Internet service is a vital link in our daily lives and telecommunications companies have a responsibility to deliver reliable service to their customers,” Cuomo said.

TIME Technology & Media

10 Great Books That Aren’t on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (Yet!)

Today - Season 62
Pictured: Malcolm Gladwell appears on NBC News' "Today" show NBC NewsWire—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited isn't lived up to its name yet

Amazon announced Friday its new Kindle Unlimited service, which allows customers to read an unlimited number of e-books for $9.99 per month. Essentially, Kindle Unlimited is to books as Netflix is to movies. It’s a potentially a game-changing new platform, could be deeply disruptive to the publishing industry, and will likely divide authors in the same way that music streaming divided musicians.

Although there are 600,000 e-book titles to read via Kindle Unlimited, there are still a vast number of great books you can’t read if you sign up. That’s because a number of major publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have not made their books available on the service.

Are the big publishers opposed to Kindle Unlimited? Or is the availability of their books on the service contingent on renewing contracts with Amazon? The major publishers have not yet publicly taken a stance on Kindle Unlimited and did not return TIME’s requests for comment, so for now, we don’t know. But it’s probably safe to say that Kindle Unlimited’s success will be defined by the number of books the big publishers make available.

For now, here are ten great books that still aren’t available on Kindle Unlimited (some of them were taken from our list of All-TIME 100 Novels):

1. Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

2. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

3. Rabbit, Run by John Updike

4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

7. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

9. The Circle by Dave Eggers

10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

TIME Technology & Media

Aereo Lawyers: We’re A Cable Company Now

And therefore, they argue, entitled to a compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act

In a letter to a District judge on Wednesday, lawyers for Aereo signaled a shift for the television streaming company whose business was halted in late June following a Supreme Court decision.

Aereo’s lawyers are now implying the company — which transmitted television broadcasts directly to users via the Internet — is a cable system and not a technology service provider as the Second Circuit court found. Because of this, the lawyers say they are entitled to a compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act and should be allowed to continue operating.

“Under the Second Circuit’s precedents, Aereo was a provider of technology and equipment with respect to the near-live transmissions at issue in the preliminary injunction appeal. After the Supreme Court decision, Aereo is a cable company with respect to those transmissions,” the lawyers write in a letter published by the Hollywood Reporter.

They continue, “If Aereo is a ‘cable system’ as that term is defined in the Copyright Act, it is eligible for a statutory license, and its transmissions may not be enjoined (preliminarily or otherwise).”

Following the Supreme Court decision, which found the company violated copyright law and should be required to follow the same rules as cable and satellite companies, the start-up halted business. Lawyers also say that, given the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling, any potential legal action against their operations should be limited to the “simultaneous or near-simultaneous streaming of over-the-air television programs.”

Broadcasters argue, however, that Aereo’s arguments are invalid.

“Aereo never before pled (much less litigated) Section 111 as an affirmative defense,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote. “Whatever Aereo may say about its rationale for raising it now, it is astonishing for Aereo to contend the Supreme Court’s decision automatically transformed Aereo into a ‘cable system’ under Section 111 given its prior statements to this Court and the Supreme Court.”

TIME

Here’s What Facebook Can Do With Your Personal Data in the Name of Science

Operations Inside The Facebook Data Center
Signage stands outside the Facebook Inc. Prineville Data Center in Prineville, Oregon, U.S., on Monday, April 28, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It turns out that Facebook pretty much regulates itself

There probably have been times when you wondered what technology companies can do with your data. It might have been all the moments you realized how surprisingly well-targeted Facebook’s ads are. Or maybe it was the time that advertisement ran on your Gmail page, asking whether you and your boyfriend just broke up. (Extra points for Gmail if you really did.)

Facebook aroused the ire of privacy activists across the country and in Europe after news broke last week that researchers manipulated users’ News Feeds as part of a so-called “emotional contagion” scientific study. Working with two outside researchers, Facebook tweaked the number of posts classified as “happy” or “sad” on nearly 700,000 users’ News Feeds in order to see how their emotions would change. It did it without those users’ consent.

Facebook didn’t break any laws in the United States, experts say. But reports of Facebook’s study infuriated many users who felt their privacy had been violated, and that their emotions had been deliberately manipulated without their knowledge.

Many worried that Facebook’s research isn’t subject to the same levels of oversight as research institutions.

What kind of research does Facebook conduct?

Facebook experiments run the gamut from simple A/B testing (marketing jargon for learning what consumers prefer by presenting them with two scenarios) to more elaborate research published with outside help, like the emotional contagion study. Data teams use advertisement targeting tests to find out what ads users prefer to click on, and reshuffle users’ News Feeds to see which format users engage with best. Facebook does that kind of research a lot.

Does Facebook have any restrictions in the kinds of research it can do?

Facebook has few limits on the kinds of research it can conduct with your data, as long as that research is internal to the company. Here’s the crucial clause in Facebook’s data privacy policy:

…in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you… for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.

What Facebook is saying is that after people have agreed to its terms and conditions, Facebook can do the data research it wants to do.

“When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer,” a Facebook spokesperson told TIME. “To suggest we conducted any corporate research without permission is complete fiction.”

Facebook also controls your News Feed, meaning that it can essentially do what it wants to change it, which includes rearranging statuses on your page, as it did in the controversial study. It says as much here, in its terms of service:

…we may make friend suggestions, pick stories for your News Feed…

So once you click on the terms of service, there’s not much stopping Facebook from doing what it wants with your information, and changing the way you interact with the platform. And it does it all the time.

“There aren’t a whole lot of legal constraints on the things that Facebook and other online service providers can do in terms of dealing with data they have about their own users,” Jon Penney, a lawyer and research fellow of internet policy at Harvard University told TIME. “In terms of U.S. law, if Facebook is abiding by its terms of service, they’re going to be fine.”

How does Facebook monitor the ethics of its own research?

Most research institutions have a highly formal internal review processes that involve panels called Institutional Review Boards. But Facebook doesn’t have the same internal review processes that universities and institutions do.

Until recently, Facebook’s review process was largely informal and ad hoc.

“While I was at Facebook, there was no institutional review board that scrutinized the decision to run an experiment for internal purposes,” Andy Ledvina—a data scientist at Facebook until March 2013 and a software engineer until April 2014—told TIME. Most research (A/B testing, advertisement targeting, News Feed tweaking) did not require formal review.

But, Ledvina said, any research that went to a journal looped in public relations and Facebook’s legal department over what could be published. “People aren’t just running experiments willy-nilly,” Ledvina said. “Those who do run such experiments, have very high ethical standards and experience running experiments both inside and outside academia.”

Facebook has since tightened its review standards, formalizing a review process over the course of 2013. By the start of 2014, research intended for publication had to be reviewed by privacy and legal experts.

Also, more prosaic research like A/B testing and ad targeting is now reviewed for privacy implications as well.

Facebook views customer research as a normal company practice that improves users’ time on the social media site. After all, Facebook is far from the only company that uses data to target customers. Grocery stores keep tabs on what sells and what doesn’t; advertisers conduct in-depth market surveys; and retailers target demographics and customer profiles.

“Our research is designed to understand how people use Facebook and how we can make our services better for them,” Facebook’s spokesperson said.

But what worries privacy activists about Facebook is the sheer intimacy of users’ content, and the vast quantity of exposed data. “Facebook has unmatched social data based upon your seemingly natural interactions with your friends,” James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland, told TIME. “That’s the value proposition they’ve told their investors and their advertisers who they work with that they’re trying to leverage.”

Okay, so we’ve been talking about Facebook’s own research. What about when it works with other scientists outside Facebook?

When data leaves the company, Facebook says, it’s anonymized and de-identified, meaning that there’s theoretically no way to for outside researchers to track down individual Facebook users. Facebook believes it’s not violating anyone’s privacy when it collaborates with outside researchers.

But if Facebook collaborates with a university on a study of human behavior, the study would in most cases be subject to a formal review. And in studies like the one that involved manipulating users’ News Feeds to alter their emotions, the users would likely have to give consent—or the institution could risk losing federal funding.

Experts say current rules discourage Facebook from collaborating with outside researchers. In the scientific world, research is regulated by federal rules, and within Facebook, it isn’t. It means Facebook is freer to do what it wants when it doesn’t disclose its research, and encourages Facebook to act in secret.

“The incentives that we’re giving them are completely backwards,” said Grimmelmann. “We’re telling them, hoard this data and go ahead and conduct all the experiments that you want and don’t tell anyone. Which is the very opposite of what we want for people using Facebook and for society.”

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