Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)’s new bill on data harvesting and algorithmic discrimination is a breath of fresh air: aiming at the root cause of Big Tech’s harms without misguided attacks on Section 230.

Posted May 27, 2021, 5:47 PM

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The following statement can be attributed to Evan Greer (she/her), Director, Fight for the Future

Today, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), along with Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), introduced the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act, which aims to prohibit online platforms from deploying algorithms that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age, ability, and other protected classes, while also seeking greater transparency by requiring more information on how these algorithms work and what information they collect.

Fight for the Future applauds Sen. Markey’s focus on two of Big Tech’s root harms: algorithmic discrimination and data harvesting. By putting these two practices front-and-center and calling out harmful and discriminatory uses of algorithms, this legislation significantly advances the policy conversation around how to rein in Big Tech. And it does so without poking holes in Section 230—which could disproportionately silence the speech of marginalized people and make Big Tech platforms even more powerful, as outlined by 70+ human rights groups in this letter.

We look forward to working with Sen. Markey’s office and other lawmakers now that they have initiated this valuable conversation, as we are eager to be a part of making this legislation even more robust and intersectional in how it addresses the harmful practices of Big Tech. As with any bill that attempts to regulate platforms that host billions of people’s speech, we must ensure it does not inadvertently suppress the speech of marginalized people, especially social movements working for racial justice, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, human rights, and civil liberties. We have some concerns that giving government the power to determine which platform content moderation rules are “fair, accurate, and unbiased” could end updisproportionatelyharming marginalized voices and communities, even if those provisions are intended to be neutral. We also must ensure that any legislation designed to rein in Big Tech doesn’t accidentally harm smaller and emerging internet platforms, further cementing Big Tech’s monopoly. Sen. Markey’s office has taken a powerful step forward in support of putting people’s digital rights first. We will continue to  push for strong legislation that strikes at the root of Big Tech’s harms: its surveillance capitalist business model, which is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy. 

Fight for the Future opposes reckless changes to Section 230 that could harm marginalized communities and human rights. We support strong federal data privacy legislation, robust antitrust enforcement, and the restoration of net neutrality. We’ve called for an outright ban on surveillance-based advertising, and immediate industry-wide moratorium on non-transparent forms of algorithmic manipulation of content and newsfeeds. We don’t agree that more aggressive content moderation on its own will address the harms of Big Tech, and we fear that without structural changes, more aggressive platform moderation and content removal will disproportionately harm marginalized people and social movements.