The Ultimate Social Data

Facebook is considering allowing scientists to evaluate its user data without breaching its privacy policies.

Jul 26, 2012
Cristina Luiggi

With user numbers expected to hit the 1 billion mark in August, Facebook undoubtedly represents a goldmine for social scientists interested in data on people’s preferences and behaviors. But because of the social site’s privacy policies, getting access to the petabytes (1,000s of terabytes) of data is nearly impossible unless researchers are employees of Facebook. As a result, the findings and methods of papers published by Facebook scientists have gone unchecked due to lack of access to the raw data.

However, the company is exploring various scenarios that would allow third-party access to such data, according to Nature. For example, after the publication of a paper, interested scholars could travel to Facebook’s headquarters and have access to the aggregated data only, stripped of all personally identifiable information.

“We want to participate in the scientific process and we believe that there should be a way to have other researchers validate [our studies] without infringing on the policies that we have set with our users,” Cameron Marlow, head of Facebook's data-science team, told Nature.