Algorithm Transparency Bill Introduced

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) have introduced a bill to boost online content moderation transparency and prevent algorithmic discrimination, with Markey saying it was time to "open up Big Tech's hood."

Facebook, for one, has been calling for legislation on transparency.

Among other things, the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act of 2021 would prevent algorithms that exclude certain people from seeing online advertising--racial minorities for housing ads, for example, or certain gender identities from job ads.

“As we work to eliminate injustice in our society, we cannot ignore the online ecosystem. It is time to open up Big Tech’s hood, enact strict prohibitions on harmful algorithms, and prioritize justice for communities who have long been discriminated against as we work toward platform accountability," said Markey.

Specifically, according to Markey's office, the bill would:

1. "Prohibit algorithmic processes on online platforms that discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender, ability and other protected characteristics.

2. "Establish a safety and effectiveness standard for algorithms, such that online platforms may not employ automated processes that harm users or fail to take reasonable steps to ensure algorithms achieve their intended purposes.

3. "Require online platforms to describe to users in plain language the types of algorithmic processes they employ and the information they collect to power them.

4. "Require online platforms to maintain detailed records describing their algorithmic process for review by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in compliance with key privacy and data de-identification standards.

5. "Require online platforms to publish annual public reports detailing their content moderation practices.

6. "Create an inter-agency task force comprised of entities including the FTC, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Commerce, and Department of Justice, to investigate the discriminatory algorithmic processes employed in sectors across the economy."

Facebook took some heat in the announcement. "While media investigations have uncovered evidence that Facebook failed to abide by its commitment to stop using its algorithms to recommend political groups to users ahead of the 2020 election, and that the company similarly failed to take down content from a dangerous conspiracy theorist who the platform previously banned," Markey's office said, "many more examples may never have been uncovered."

The senators said that a "comprehensive review" of algorithms and their potential discriminatory impact on everything from healthcare to financial services to employment and higher education is called for.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.