Senators Reintroduce Bill Requiring Platforms To Share Data With Researchers

Lawmakers in the Senate reintroduced a bipartisan bill that would force social media platforms to provide researchers with a trove of information about ads as well as content.

The Platform Accountability and Transparency Act -- introduced Thursday by Senators Chris Coons (D-Delaware). Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) -- would require social platforms with at least 50 million monthly U.S. users to share data with researchers whose projects have been approved by the National Science Foundation.

The bill specifically would obligate platforms to share ad libraries, statistics about content moderation, descriptions of recommendation algorithms, and information about “highly disseminated” content -- defined by the bill as content viewed by at least 10,000 users.

The proposed law also would require platforms to disclose some “reasonably public” information about users, defined as information that users “made available in a manner and under such circumstances such that the author does not retain a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information.”

The bill wouldn't require platforms to disclose users' private messages, biometric information, or precise location data.

The tech industry group NetChoice criticized the proposed law, arguing that it could threaten data security and privacy.

“Any researchers -- even ones with the best intentions -- can be hacked,” NetChoice general counsel Carl Szabo stated

A slightly different version of the proposed law was floated in 2021, soon after Meta Platforms effectively shut down New York University's Ad Observatory project, which studied political ads on the platform. That project relied on a downloadable browser extension to gather data related to political ads, including how they're targeted. Meta said it disabled the accounts, apps, pages and platform access connected with the initiative due to privacy concerns.

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