Frontiers did not identify any issues with the ethical aspects of the study
I've written about that already. The journal has this statement on the page of the article, showing they found NO issue from an ethical perspective:
In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical, and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors.
Journal is squirming and making matters worse for themselves
Now the journal is trying to argue otherwise, writing:
As a result of its investigation, which was carried out in respect of academic, ethical and legal factors, Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects.
The journal has made a real mess of this. First they got the paper reviewed and it got the tick for publication. Then they published the paper. Then they got complaints from a "small number" of science deniers so they pulled the paper. Then they sat on it for a year or so and there was probably stuff going on behind the scenes. Then they retracted it, while saying there was no reason other than an "insufficiently clear" legal context!
Now they are backtracking from the statement they made and is still on their website. Now they are implying there are ethical issues! This latest statement comes across as an attempt to obfuscate after they got such bad press for caving into the conspiracy nutters who complained that their public statements showing their conspiracy ideation were studied to see how conspiracies evolve over time. That latest action by Frontiers seems to me to be a violation of ethics on their part!
I doubt this latest statement from them will help recover their now-sullied reputation. As Peter Hannam wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald (my bold italics):
Kim Heitman, a lawyer for the UWA, said the university had done its own risk analysis before publishing the paper online. “There’s no reason to take it down,” Mr Heitman said.
The university had also received complaints from some groups. “It’s quite relentless,” he said.
“There’s always a close interest in everything that Steve (Lewandowsky) does,” Mr Heitman said. “We are conscious that we are going to be targeted by people opposed to his works.”
The university, though, had also received plaudits from around the world for its decision to publish the paper.
"I couldn't list them," Mr Heitman said. "And I wouldn't list them, having regard to the fact that anyone who issues a 'thanks UWA' will probably get their own enquiry."
Thing is, most people had probably never heard of the journal Frontiers in Psychology before. Now a lot more people have heard about it - and what they read is not exactly the sort of publicity a journal would be expected to seek. The mess is their own making. This is from Ars Technica:
When asked for comment, Lewandowsky forwarded Ars a letter he received from the staff of the Australian Psychological Society. In it, they note they are "concerned about the possible reasons behind Frontiers’ decision to retract the article, particularly given that their investigation has not identified any significant issues with the academic and ethical aspects of this study. It is concerning that some scientific journals feel sufficiently threatened by potential liability fears to not publish articles with ‘inconvenient information’ about climate change."
Update: As pointed out by Jammy Dodger, it's a bit unusual for such a statement to appear on a blog page (rather than on a press release page, for example. Especially as they have not revised the retraction statement.) However the blog article is from Costanza Zucca, Editorial Director and Fred Fenter, Executive Editor so looks as if it's meant to be a formal statement.