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A/B Testing Ethics Can’t Be Ignored

Every company tries to boost its business by reaching out to its consumers in one way or the other. Advertising one’s business through emails was common some years ago, and while it is still practiced today, there are many other ways to improving your webpages or attract more traffic to your website.

A/B testing has proved itself to be one of the easiest and best ways to understand more about your costumers and improve your brand accordingly. In this simple method, you put two different designs side by side and test them in the real world, and then compare the results to decide which changes to make. But due to its effectiveness, A/B testing has become a little too common today and people are being used as test subjects every day without even knowing about it. This begs questions to be asked about whether A/B testing ethics can or can’t be ignored.

Facebook’s Recent Experiment on People’s Moods:

Facebook, the website that receives a huge amount of controversial press, has crossed yet another line recently. The people at Facebook decided to try and manipulate people’s moods by showing them more positive or negative stories on their New Feeds. They used this experiment on 689,003 users and deduced the results on the basis of what the users posted after going through their News Feed, whether a happy feed made them happy or a depressing feed made them sad.

While the experiment didn’t provide any concrete results at all, it gave rise to an uproar. People don’t like being manipulated like this without any sort of consent at all and Facebook didn’t even seek the approval from the Ethics Board. This was a type of A/B testing that shows that the ethics related to this method just can’t be ignored.

Dangers that such Experiments Pose:

Without asking for consent or notifying people, Facebook could have potentially negatively altered the News Feed of someone with severe depression. This can lead to things like suicide in some cases. Other people can also get depressed even when their News Feed is made happier, because they realize that their life isn’t as good as other people.

Recommendations to Ensure Ethical Behavior:

There is a need for companies to ensure ethical use of A/B testing. We are made subjects to A/B testing every day in multiple ways, but some limits should be made in the customers’ best interests.

  • An option to opt out of such experiments that play directly with people’s moods or feelings should be provided.
  • The Federal Trade Commission that audits privacy settings for many companies like Facebook should add a layer of ethics it its policies.
  • Companies should properly train and educate their scientists about the ethics related to A/B testing so that they can design these experiments in ways that are more safe and compassionate to the people.

These are just some ways in which we can make sure that A/B testing doesn’t prove to be emotionally or physically harmful to someone. These ethics can’t be ignored anymore and consumers and companies need to work together in order to find a middle ground so that the advancement of technology doesn’t put people’s privacy and feelings at risk.

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