New Bill Would Require Social Platforms To Share Data With Academics

Lawmakers on Thursday unveiled a new bill that would require social media platforms to share some data with researchers.

The “Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA),” released by Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), would obligate social platforms with at least 25 million monthly users to share data with university-affiliated researchers -- provided their research projects have been approved by the National Science Foundation.

“It’s increasingly clear that more transparency is needed so that the billions of people who use Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms can fully understand the impact of those tradeoffs,” Coons stated Thursday.



The bill authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to bring enforcement actions against social media platforms that fail to provide the data, and provides that violators could potentially lose the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That law broadly immunizes web companies for liability over material posted by third parties.

The measure also would task the FTC with establishing privacy safeguards -- such as by requiring researchers to access the data in “secure rooms,” or directing companies to anonymize the data before disclosing it.

The proposed legislation comes several months after Facebook effectively shut down New York University's Ad Observatory project, which studied political ads on the platform.

The NYU Ad Observatory relied on a downloadable browser extension to gather data related to political ads, including how they're targeted. Citing privacy concerns, Facebook said in August it had disabled the accounts, apps, pages and platform access connected with the Ad Observatory and its operators.

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