WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Sen. Edward Markey (D–Massachusetts) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D–California) introduced the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act, legislation that would prevent the discriminatory use of personal information by online platforms such as Facebook and Google.
The legislation would require platforms to annually disclose to users their content-moderation practices, and how they collect and use each user’s personal information in their algorithmic processes. It would make it unlawful for platforms to process user data in a manner that segregates, discriminates or otherwise makes unavailable goods, services, facilities, privileges or other advantages on the basis of an individual’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability status or immigration status, among other categories.
For years, civil-liberties, online-rights and racial-justice groups like Free Press Action have argued that platforms use algorithms without proper vetting or transparency, resulting in discrimination in housing, credit lending, job advertising and other opportunities. These harms have disproportionately impacted populations that already experience marginalization and that are often the target of disinformation campaigns.
In 2019, Free Press Action and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released The Online Civil Rights and Privacy Act, model legislation designed to combat such harms. Sen. Markey and Rep. Matsui’s legislation contains similar concepts.
Free Press Action Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:
“Over the past year, millions of people across the United States have spoken out for racial justice. As this fight continues, there is a growing recognition of the destructive role unchecked tech-company business practices can play in denying the rights of communities that are most impacted by discrimination. The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act would protect our online civil liberties and aggressively fight racial injustices committed by the world’s most powerful technology companies and a wide range of smaller platforms.
“Free Press Action is grateful to Senator Markey and Representative Matsui for their ongoing efforts. The bill’s transparency requirements are a necessary step to holding platforms accountable for abusive data practices that perpetuate disparate outcomes against Black and Brown people and other impacted communities.
“We have long called on lawmakers to expand the privacy debate and account for civil-rights violations perpetrated online. Markey and Matsui recognize the need for online businesses to protect the rights of impacted communities, and to prevent discrimination based on people’s personal information and characteristics. We now call on other members of Congress to affirm the civil liberties of every person in this country and protect their right to live free of Big Tech’s unjust and discriminatory practices.”