U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the internet and consumer protection, and Mark Warner (D-Va.) today reintroduced the Filter Bubble Transparency Act. The bill would require large-scale internet platforms that collect data from more than 1 million users and gross more than $50 million per year to provide greater transparency to consumers and allow users to view content that has not been curated as a result of a secret algorithm. The Filter Bubble Transparency Act would make it easier for internet platform users to understand the potential manipulation that exists with secret algorithms and require large-scale platforms to allow those users to consume information outside of that potential manipulation zone or “filter bubble.”
“The more transparency consumers have with respect to how social media and other internet platforms prioritize content on their services, the better,” said Thune, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. “This legislation helps consumers better understand how algorithms are used to select content in their ‘feed’ and gives users more control over what information they are digesting. I’d like to thank Sen. Schatz for adding his support to this bill, which increases the momentum behind this important issue.”
“Big tech’s manipulative algorithms have exploited consumers and their data for far too long,” said Blumenthal. “By notifying and providing users with options for how they are viewing information, this bill will grant Americans the transparency and privacy they deserve. I’m proud to join a bipartisan coalition in the ongoing fight for stronger data privacy protections.”
“In an increasingly complex tech economy, consumers want to know what personal information about them is being collected and how it is being processed and repurposed,” said Moran. “This legislation increases consumer awareness of how algorithms are manipulating what they view online and allows them to decide what they see on their screens by providing increased user control of algorithms used by Big Tech."
“Big Tech’s tight grip over what we hear, say, and see online is incredibly concerning,” said Blackburn. “With much of our work, school, and personal lives transitioning to online platforms, our digital landscape must be driven by consumer choice. The Filter Bubble Transparency Act will empower users to choose what they want to see when they want to see it.”
“People deserve to know how algorithms impact the content they see online, and how their personal is data is being collected and used to feed them,” said Schatz. “Our bill will give consumers more control over this process and give them more choices about what kind of content they can view.”
“As we’ve seen over and over, consumers have limited understanding of how their data is being used and how platforms operate,” said Warner. “This bill helps reduce the power of opaque algorithms on our discourse and put greater control in the hands of consumers.”
The Filter Bubble Transparency Act would require large-scale internet platforms, as defined by the legislation, to:
- Clearly notify its users that their platform creates a filter bubble that uses secret algorithms (computer-generated filters) to determine the order or manner in which information is delivered to users; and
- Provide its users with the option of a filter bubble-free view of the information they provide. The bill would enable users to transition between a customized, filter bubble-generated version of information and a non-filter bubble version (for example, the “sparkle icon” option that is currently offered by Twitter that allows users to toggle between a personalized timeline and a purely chronological timeline).
The Filter Bubble Transparency Act would make it unlawful for any person to operate a covered internet platform that uses a secret algorithm unless the platform complies with the two above requirements. The Federal Trade Commission would enforce the legislation’s requirements, and it would be authorized to seek civil penalties for knowing violations.
In June 2019, Thune led a hearing entitled, “Optimizing for Engagement: Understanding the Use of Persuasive Technology on Internet Platforms,” where he pressed technology experts, including current and former Google employees, on how algorithmic decision-making and machine learning on internet platforms influences the public.