Facebook takes the world from intellectual to emotional property

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has a charming presence.  But, as I met her with a few journalists in Delhi, I did not immediately realise the controversial impact of a question I lobbed at her seeking her views on how the UK information regulator was probing her on a psychological experiment Facebook conducted for market research.

Her remark that Facebook had communicated poorly amounted to a candid admission of sorts in the grey area of privacy.  Sandberg went on to explain how Facebook clearly gives people the option of the degree to which their data or views can be private or public, but the conceptual issue  of how much the company can snoop on us to make our lives better remains unanswered.

In 2012, Facebook’s behavioural scientists for a week altered what appeared on the news feed of more than 600,000 users. One group got mostly positive items; the other got mostly negative items — and the researchers realised that positive news elicited positive reactions and negative news elicited negative behaviour. But the insight irked privacy activists who feel like Facebook users are guinea pigs.

In the digital age, attention is a currency and privacy is a property. If the 20th Century put intellectual property rights (IPRs) in the public discourse, the new century could be about what I might called emtional property.

Ms. Sandberg’s charming intelligence that  is wowing people across the planet is encountering a new philosophical challenge. EPRs, anyone?


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