US Senators Propose Data Transparency Bill For Social Media

Social networking firms could be required in the future to hand over their data to researchers, in an effort to ensure full data transparency.

Three US senators, two Democrats and a Republican, announced on Thursday a bill to require social media companies like Facebook to give certain researchers access to its data.

It comes after a number of surprises over the years, the latest of which saw whistleblower Frances Haugen release internal documents that alleged Facebook knew Instagram was harming teenagers, along with other revelations.

Facebook becomes Meta

Data access

Facebook got into hot water also in September this year, when it became embroiled in a row with a group of New York University researchers (NYU Cybersecurity for Democracy), after it cut off their access to its data.

Members of the Cybersecurity for Democracy team, based at New York University, tweeted they had had their accounts shut down.

But they didn’t mention that Facebook had been repeatedly warning them that they had been violating its data collection policies for the best part of a year.

But that data shutdown quickly became political, with US Senator Mark Warner reportedly saying Facebook’s move to disable the accounts the New York University researchers who were studying political ads on its platform was “deeply concerning.”

Senator Warner, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Facebook’s action was a step backward.

Proposed bill

And this political issue is not going away after Senators Chris Coons and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, announced the bill along with Rob Portman, a Republican, Reuters reported.

The bill would require the companies to release internal data and assist independent researchers whose projects have been vetted by the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency.

“Researchers would then be able to examine the data and release findings on the platforms’ impact to the public,” the lawmakers’ offices said in a joint statement.

Throughout the process, users’ privacy would be protected.

Companies that fail to turn over wanted data could face enforcement from the Federal Trade Commission and could lose their immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Reuters reported.

Section 230 gives firms such Facebook and Twitter, immunity from liability over content posted by users.

There is currently no House of Representatives companion to the proposed bill, Reuters reported.

“Increasing transparency around Big Tech practices will give policymakers the high-quality, well-vetted information we need to do our job most effectively,” Portman said in a statement.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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