New Bill Would Force Big Tech to 'Own' Filter Bubble

Capitol Building

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Mark Warner (D-Va.), have reintroduced a bill that would require more transparency about edge providers' use of secret algorithms to frame user's online experience.

The Filter Bubble Transparency Act, which was introduced back in 2019, requires large internet platforms (over 1 million users and generating more than $50 million in gross revenues, to inform users how their experience is being shaped and allow them to exit that information bubble if they choose.

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Specifically, the bill would require those platforms to:

1. "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

2. "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)."

It would be illegal for anyone to operate a covered online platform that uses a "secret algorithm" unless the above two conditions are met. The Federal Trade Commission would enforce the legislation, including giving it the power to seek civil penalties for willful violations.

The bill's 2019 bipartisan incarnation may not have made it into law, but Silicon Valley is under renewed, heavy, and bipartisan criticism for how it treats content and its users.

“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.”

“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 Senate Commerce Committee Communications Subcommittee (all the bill's sponsors but Warner are members of the committee). “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.”

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.