Today, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law joined with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to announce the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), which according to the announcement “would require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform data.”text_pata_117
The proposed legislation would authorize the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to set data and information sharing criteria and rules for platforms to share data with researchers, including around privacy and cybersecurity. It would establish a “Platform Accountability and Transparency Office” within the FTC. Working with that new office at FTC, the legislation puts the National Science Foundation (NSF) in charge of reviewing proposed research projects, which would be carried out by university-affiliated researchers. And, it creates protections both for the platforms and for journalists and academic researchers conducting research in the public interest.
The legislation would also amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to introduce liability for platforms deemed by the FTC or a federal court “to have failed to provide qualified data and information pursuant to a qualified research project, in violation” of the Act where “this failure to comply was a significant contributor to the harm alleged by the claimant that is the basis for the claim to relief.’’
Access to data for researchers to study the ways in which social media affects society and people’s health is a nearly universal demand from the scientific community. For instance, on Monday, more than 300 scientists introduced an open letter to Facebook (now Meta) CEO Mark Zuckerberg to demand access to data that would permit child and adolescent mental health research.
The proposed legislation appears based in part on a framework put forward earlier by Nathaniel Persily, a professor of law at Stanford Law School and director of the Stanford Cyber Policy Center. He called his proposed legislation the “Platform Transparency and Accountability Act.”
Listen to Persily in conversation with Rebekah Tromble and Brandie Nonnecke on platform transparency and data access for research on the Tech Policy Press podcast in October.
Persily said the Senate’s proposed “legislation represents a critical step in opening a window onto tech and in holding the large social media platforms accountable. We cannot live in a world where the platforms know everything about us and we know next to nothing about them. We should not need to wait for whistle blowers to blow their whistles before we gain insights into the greatest challenges threatening our democracy and the information ecosystem.”
This piece will be updated.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.