Today, Congresswoman Lori Trahan, D-MA3 and Kathy Castor, D-FL14, both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, introduced the Social Media Disclosure and Transparency of Advertisements (DATA) Act.
The proposed bill would require digital platforms “to provide information about their advertising to academic researchers” by creating searchable libraries that detail the content, targeting criteria and associated data necessary to analyze the purposes and efficacy of the advertisements. Such information, made available to approved academic researchers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), would require the platforms to expose quite a lot more detail than existing products, such as Facebook’s Ad Library.social_media_data_act_bill_text
“Massive digital platforms like Google and Facebook continue to profit hand over fist from targeted ads while bad actors actively exploit their lack of transparency to harm consumers, including some of the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Congresswoman Trahan in a press release. “The digital marketing industry has allowed ads promoting high interest credit cards to target older women, junk food and pill parties to target younger users, predatory for-profit colleges to target veterans, fraudulent opioid rehabilitation centers to target potential patients, and much, much more.”
The bill has the support of a variety of civil society and activist groups, including Public Knowledge, the Anti-Defamation League, Public Citizen, the Center for Digital Democracy, Accountable Tech, the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Common Sense, Decode Democracy, and the Media Alliance, according to Trahan’s release.
“It’s a great first step,” said Dr. Rebekah Tromble, Director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at The George Washington University in a tweet. “But I think the FTC working group it would create is in many ways even more important than the ad data. That’s where we’ll have a chance to deal with the bigger issues involved in improved data access.”
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.