Facebook is hardly the only Internet company that manipulates and analyzes consumer data. Google and Yahoo also watch how users interact with search results or news articles to adjust what is shown; they say this improves the user experience. But Facebook’s most recent test did not appear to have such a beneficial purpose. ...Google is famous for experimenting on users. Eric Schmidt said:
In an academic paper published in conjunction with two university researchers, the company reported that, for one week in January 2012, it had altered the number of positive and negative posts in the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users to see what effect the changes had on the tone of the posts the recipients then wrote.
The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.
Google is run by three computer scientists. We’re going to make all the mistakes computer scientists running a company would make. But one of the mistakes we’re not going to make is the mistake non-scientists make. We’re going to make mistakes based on facts and data and analysis.Those experiments are to maximize advertising revenue. They may say that it improves the user experience, but their idea of an improved user experience is one where you click on more ads.
Not everyone agrees that the randomized clinical trial is always best. See this for the views of statisticians, and some criticism of Freakonomics Levitt on this point.