Senator Markey, Rep. Matsui Introduce Legislation to Combat Harmful Algorithms and Create New Online Transparency Regime | #socialmedia

Legislation would also create an inter-agency task force to
examine use of discriminatory algorithms in the education, healthcare, housing,
and financial sectors


Washington (May 27, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey
(D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06) today introduced the Algorithmic
Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act of 2021
to prohibit harmful
algorithms, increase transparency into websites’ content amplification and
moderation practices, and commission a cross-government investigation into
discriminatory algorithmic processes throughout the economy. Algorithms are the
automated systems built into the infrastructure of a platform that determine
what content users see online. These automated decisions are often informed by
a user’s online data or behavior, with or without a user’s knowledge. The
legislation includes prohibitions against damaging algorithmic processes on
popular websites, which have resulted in discrimination in a variety of
contexts, including platforms delivering housing advertisements in ways that result in racial
discrimination and excluding users of certain gender identities from viewing job

“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,”
Senator Markey.
 “Biased artificial intelligence systems have become
embedded in the fabric of our digital society and they must be rooted out. I am
proud to partner with Congresswoman Matsui on the Algorithmic Justice and
Online Platform Transparency Act
and I urge my colleagues in Congress to
join this effort.”

“We stand amidst a reckoning on racial justice and
discrimination, and we must seize the moment by doing all we can to root out
prejudiced practices wherever they occur. As we work for justice and reform, it
is crucial that we remain vigilant by demanding transparency from 21st century
platforms about the algorithms that shape our online interactions,” said
Congresswoman Matsui.
“For far too many Americans, long-held biases and
systemic injustices contained within certain algorithms are perpetuating
inequalities and barriers to access. The Algorithmic Justice and Online
Platform Transparency Act is an essential roadmap for digital justice to move
us forward on the path to online equity and stop these discriminatory
practices. I look forward to working with Senator Markey and urge all of my
colleagues to join us in this effort.”


copy of the legislation can be found HERE. 


The Algorithmic
Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act

  • Prohibit algorithmic processes on online platforms that
    discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender, ability and other
    protected characteristics.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • Require online platforms to publish annual public reports
    detailing their content moderation practices.
  • 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
Currently, algorithms—the systems that increase
and decrease visibility of online content on social media platforms and other
popular websites –function as black boxes, making it difficult for the public
and policymakers to conduct oversight and ensure companies’ compliance with
their own policies. 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, many more examples may
never have been uncovered.


algorithmic processes do not merely operate on popular platforms that people
use every day. Often, unbeknownst to members of the public, companies involved
in higher education, employment screening, financial services, and healthcare
also use discriminatory systems of automation. The increasing use of artificial
intelligence tools that pose harms to marginalized communities warrants a
comprehensive review of these technologies and their potential for
discriminatory outcomes.


Endorsers of the Algorithmic
Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act
include: Asian Americans
Advancing Justice, Access Now, Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Common Cause, Common
Sense Media, Consumer Reports, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Free Press Action,
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Hispanic Media
Coalition, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

needs a strong roadmap for digital justice and this legislation is it,” said
David Brody, who leads the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee
for Civil Rights Under Law
. “Senator Markey’s bill would protect against
online discrimination, establish guardrails for artificial intelligence, and
promote equal opportunity on the internet.”


Press Action welcomes the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency
Act, and the bill’s focus on preventing discriminatory algorithmic processes
that disproportionately impact communities of color,” said Carmen Scurato,
Senior Policy Counsel, Free Press Action.
“The bill’s transparency
requirements are a necessary step to holding platforms accountable for abusive
data practices that perpetuate disparate outcomes.


Press Action has long called on lawmakers to expand the privacy debate and
account for civil rights violations perpetrated online. We thank Senator Markey
for recognizing the need for online businesses to protect the rights of
marginalized and vulnerable communities, and to prevent discrimination based on
people’s personal information and characteristics.”


Tech’s problematic track record in failing to protect civil rights proves that
we need swift legislation to protect Black people online,” said Arisha
Hatch, Vice President and Chief of Campaigns, Color Of Change.
Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act includes necessary
provisions to prevent algorithmic discrimination. When Big Tech companies rely
on discriminatory algorithms, they aren’t just profiting from
surveillance  —  they are actively amplifying disinformation and
allowing racially biased targeted advertising that reinforces structures that
have exploited Black people for decades. In order to combat biased algorithms
and demand accountability from corporate leaders who uphold and enable the harm
of Black people online, we must see regulatory action from Congress. Color Of
Change commends Senator Markey and Representative Doris Matsui’s efforts in
centering civil rights in tech policy legislation and we will continue to
demand the federal regulation needed to ensure Black communities’ safety and
build racial justice infrastructures online.”


don’t put products on the market without testing them, yet the digital
algorithms that shape our and our children’s social networks, educational
opportunities, and views on the world are currently never assessed for safety
or effectiveness,” said, James Steyer, Founder & Chief Executive
Officer, Common Sense Media.
“Sen. Markey’s proposal provides a much needed
roadmap to a healthy algorithmic future. It also provides a number of
opportunities for researchers, watchdogs, and families to better understand how
platforms operate, how they target us, and what they do with everything we’re
creating and sharing online.”


hate speech can manifest into real-life violence. Latinx lives are at stake
because of the lack of transparency and enforcement action by social media
platforms,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, President and CEO, National
Hispanic Media Coalition.
“NHMC applauds Senator Ed Markey for his
leadership protecting marginalized communities from online discrimination and
hate powered by algorithmic bias through the Algorithmic Justice and Online
Transparency Act.”


Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act is an important first
step in requiring platforms to take responsibility for their complex content
algorithms,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge. “This
bill goes well beyond providing mere transparency about how these algorithms
work by requiring companies to verify that their algorithms are performing the
way they are meant to perform, as well as by providing users with data
portability. And instead of relying solely on governmental entities for
enforcement, individuals are able to sue platforms for their discriminatory
algorithms. This is the bold first step we need to hold platforms accountable
for their algorithms.”


need to address discriminatory practices that for too long have evaded public
scrutiny,” said Nandita Sampath, Policy Analyst, Consumer Reports.
“The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act is an
important proposal to tackle head on the issue of algorithmic bias. We look
forward to continuing to work with the sponsors of the bill to seek out the
most effective ways to uncover these biases and stop the harms.” 


far too long, Big Tech and other technology companies have hid behind their
black box algorithms to avoid accountability for their civil rights abuses,” said
Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Public Citizen. “
We applaud Senator
Markey in taking this important first step toward transparency by requiring
technology companies to provide basic information about their algorithms, and
for reaffirming that discrimination has no place in our economy – and that
discrimination in the digital world is no exception.”


widespread use of algorithms by companies, especially with regard to the types
of content we see online, requires safeguards against a host of discriminatory
practices and outcomes. Transparency is essential to ensure that the arsenal of
algorithms used to target us or to deny us opportunities operates responsibly,”
said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy.
“Sen. Markey’s Algorithmic Justice and Online Transparency Act of 2021 provides
this important first step and other protections to reign in the growing power
of the social media industry in our lives.”


face a world where they have little understanding of or recourse over how
artificial intelligence algorithms impact their lives,” said Ashley Boyd,
Vice President of Advocacy, Mozilla.
“That’s why it is crucial to have
consistent rules to protect people from serious harm and discrimination in AI
systems. Senator Markey has long been a champion of a free and open Internet
that protects people’s rights. His leadership in promoting algorithmic fairness
and transparency is a welcome step forward in the fight for trustworthy


deserve to know when an algorithm is making a decision about us, what personal
information is analyzed, and how this data is used against us,” said
Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst, Access Now
. “Online platforms have
gotten away with profiting off of and exploiting our most personal data for far
too long. This bill would help hold companies accountable for unlawful
algorithmic processes, and is a serious step towards algorithmic justice and
ensuring that the design and deployment of AI-assisted technologies respect
civil and human rights.”


must extend algorithmic justice and transparency to all users, especially those
who would be severely impacted by potential discrimination or media
manipulation and mis/disinformation,” said Emily Chi, Assistant Director of
Telecom, Tech, and Media, Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
“It is
critical that this legislation requires all user notice and reports to be
published in every language that platforms offer service in. Providing digital
protections in non-English languages is an important step to protecting Asian
American and Pacific Islander communities online.”



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