Turns out there is something everyone may agree on in Congress: Let netizens use mostly algorithm-lite apps

Dems, Repubs in House, Senate unite for Filter Bubble Transparency Act


A proposed bipartisan law that would force tech companies to let netizens view posts and search results free of meddling by mysterious algorithms has gained further support in Congress.

On Tuesday, US House reps Ken Buck (R-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), Lori Trahan (D-MA), and Burgess Owens (R-UT) introduced the Filter Bubble Transparency Act [PDF] as first reported by Axios.

This complements a law bill proposed by a bipartisan group of senators in June.

Lawmakers want to give users a chance “to see unmanipulated content on internet platforms." Specifically, the bill targets what it calls “opaque” algorithms: secret programs that rely on “user-specific data that was not expressly provided by the user to the platform for such purpose.”

They want qualifying companies to each install a “prominently placed icon” on their apps and websites so netizens can choose between viewing information ordered by opaque algorithms or by “input-transparent algorithms.”

For example, social networks that automatically determine interesting posts, and make those posts prominent for users to see, are probably using algorithms that would be considered opaque – it's not clear why those posts were chosen, and they may rely on personal information the user didn't think was being taken into account.

Meanwhile, something like a search engine or recommendation system that requires a user to supply a specific input, such as a request for nearby coffee shops or songs by their favorite artist, would be exempt. Content moderation algorithms that display articles, videos, or posts for specific age groups can stay as well.

In practice this could mean platforms like Facebook or TikTok potentially have to provide feeds of content untouched by their complex curation algorithms. Twitter, for example, gives people the choice of seeing “top tweets” ranked by its model, or by reverse chronological order where the very latest tweets appear at the top.

The overall goal is to ensure people aren't forced into using unexplained, exploitative algorithms that secretly draw upon personal info, and are instead offered the ability to select how information is ordered.

The Filter Bubble Transparency Act mainly targets Big Tech. Organizations that have fewer than a million users, employ fewer than 500 employees, or have made less than $50m over the past three years are excused.

The House reps hope the law be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. ®

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