I have an op-ed with Christopher Chabris that will appear in this Sunday's New York Times on one theme in my recent law review article on corporate experimentation. Despite the rather provocative headline that the Times gave it, our basic argument, made as clearly as we could in 800 words, is this: sometimes, it is more ethical to conduct a nonconsensual A/B experiment than to simply go with one's intuition and impose A on everyone. Our contrary tendency to see experiments—but not untested innovations foisted on us by powerful people—as involving risk, uncertainty, and power asymmetries is what I call the A/B illusion in my article. Here is how the op-ed begins:
Can it ever be ethical for companies or governments to experiment on their employees, customers or citizens without their consent?
The conventional answer — of course not! — animated public outrage last year after Facebook published a study in which it manipulated how much emotional content more than half a million of its users saw. Similar indignation followed the revelation by the dating site OkCupid that, as an experiment, it briefly told some pairs of users that they were good matches when its algorithm had predicted otherwise.
But this outrage is misguided. Indeed, we believe that it is based on a kind of moral illusion.