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Proposed Law Calls For Search Engine Transparency

Proposed bipartisan legislation wants to make sure that search engines disclose the algorithms they use to determine what content to share, as well as enable consumers to opt for unfiltered searches if desired.

The Filter Bubble Transparency Act, filed by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, would aim to bring more transparency to the way search engines filter results for individual searches. If passed, the law would require search engines to notify users that their platforms use algorithms, and also offer users the opportunity to opt out of the selected content.

The legislation would impact large search engines such as Google, as well as any platform that collects data from more than 1 million users and makes more than $50 million per year.

“This legislation is about transparency and consumer control,” said Thune, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on the internet. “For free markets to work as effectively and as efficiently as possible, consumers need as much information as possible, including a better understanding of how internet platforms use artificial intelligence and opaque algorithms to make inferences from the reams of personal data at their fingertips that can be used to affect behavior and influence outcomes.”

“That’s why I believe consumers should have the option to either view a platform’s opaque algorithm-generated content or its filter bubble-free content, and, at the very least, they deserve to know how large-scale internet platforms are delivering information to their users,” he added.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) noted that “consumers have limited understanding of how their data is being used and how platforms operate. This bill helps reduce the power of opaque algorithms on our discourse and put greater control in the hands of consumers.”

Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are also co-sponsors of the bill. Blackburn noted that the legislation could be included in a larger Senate privacy bill that lawmakers will be working on in the coming weeks.

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