Legislation would also create an inter-agency task force to examine use of discriminatory algorithms in the education, healthcare, housing, and financial sectors
Washington (May 27, 2021) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06) today introduced the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act of 2021 to prohibit harmful algorithms, increase transparency into websites’ content amplification and moderation practices, and commission a cross-government investigation into discriminatory algorithmic processes throughout the economy. Algorithms are the automated systems built into the infrastructure of a platform that determine what content users see online. These automated decisions are often informed by a user’s online data or behavior, with or without a user’s knowledge. The legislation includes prohibitions against damaging algorithmic processes on popular websites, which have resulted in discrimination in a variety of contexts, including platforms delivering housing advertisements in ways that result in racial discrimination and excluding users of certain gender identities from viewing job advertisements.

“As we work to eliminate injustice in our society, we cannot ignore the online ecosystem. It is time to open up Big Tech’s hood, enact strict prohibitions on harmful algorithms, and prioritize justice for communities who have long been discriminated against as we work toward platform accountability,” said Senator Markey. “Biased artificial intelligence systems have become embedded in the fabric of our digital society and they must be rooted out. I am proud to partner with Congresswoman Matsui on the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act and I urge my colleagues in Congress to join this effort.”

“We stand amidst a reckoning on racial justice and discrimination, and we must seize the moment by doing all we can to root out prejudiced practices wherever they occur. As we work for justice and reform, it is crucial that we remain vigilant by demanding transparency from 21st century platforms about the algorithms that shape our online interactions,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “For far too many Americans, long-held biases and systemic injustices contained within certain algorithms are perpetuating inequalities and barriers to access. The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act is an essential roadmap for digital justice to move us forward on the path to online equity and stop these discriminatory practices. I look forward to working with Senator Markey and urge all of my colleagues to join us in this effort.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. 
The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act would:
  • Prohibit algorithmic processes on online platforms that discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender, ability and other protected characteristics.
  • Establish a safety and effectiveness standard for algorithms, such that online platforms may not employ automated processes that harm users or fail to take reasonable steps to ensure algorithms achieve their intended purposes.
  • Require online platforms to describe to users in plain language the types of algorithmic processes they employ and the information they collect to power them. 
  • Require online platforms to maintain detailed records describing their algorithmic process for review by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in compliance with key privacy and data de-identification standards.
  • Require online platforms to publish annual public reports detailing their content moderation practices.
  • Create an inter-agency task force comprised of entities including the FTC, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Commerce, and Department of Justice, to investigate the discriminatory algorithmic processes employed in sectors across the economy.
Currently, algorithms—the systems that increase and decrease visibility of online content on social media platforms and other popular websites –function as black boxes, making it difficult for the public and policymakers to conduct oversight and ensure companies’ compliance with their own policies. While media investigations have uncovered evidence that Facebook failed to abide by its commitment to stop using its algorithms to recommend political groups to users ahead of the 2020 election, and that the company similarly failed to take down content from a dangerous conspiracy theorist who the platform previously banned, many more examples may never have been uncovered.
Problematic algorithmic processes do not merely operate on popular platforms that people use every day. Often, unbeknownst to members of the public, companies involved in higher education, employment screening, financial services, and healthcare also use discriminatory systems of automation. The increasing use of artificial intelligence tools that pose harms to marginalized communities warrants a comprehensive review of these technologies and their potential for discriminatory outcomes.
Endorsers of the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act include:  Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, Access Now, Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Common Cause, Common Sense Media, Consumer Reports, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Free Press Action, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

“America needs a strong roadmap for digital justice and this legislation is it,” said David Brody, who leads the Digital Justice Initiative at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Senator Markey’s bill would protect against online discrimination, establish guardrails for artificial intelligence, and promote equal opportunity on the internet.”
“Free Press Action welcomes the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act, and the bill’s focus on preventing discriminatory algorithmic processes that disproportionately impact communities of color,” said Carmen Scurato, Senior Policy Counsel, Free Press Action. “The bill’s transparency requirements are a necessary step to holding platforms accountable for abusive data practices that perpetuate disparate outcomes.
Free Press Action has long called on lawmakers to expand the privacy debate and account for civil rights violations perpetrated online. We thank Senator Markey for recognizing the need for online businesses to protect the rights of marginalized and vulnerable communities, and to prevent discrimination based on people’s personal information and characteristics.”
"Big Tech’s problematic track record in failing to protect civil rights proves that we need swift legislation to protect Black people online,” said Arisha Hatch, Vice President and Chief of Campaigns, Color Of Change. “The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act includes necessary provisions to prevent algorithmic discrimination. When Big Tech companies rely on discriminatory algorithms, they aren’t just profiting from surveillance  —  they are actively amplifying disinformation and allowing racially biased targeted advertising that reinforces structures that have exploited Black people for decades. In order to combat biased algorithms and demand accountability from corporate leaders who uphold and enable the harm of Black people online, we must see regulatory action from Congress. Color Of Change commends Senator Markey and Representative Doris Matsui's efforts in centering civil rights in tech policy legislation and we will continue to demand the federal regulation needed to ensure Black communities’ safety and build racial justice infrastructures online.”
 "We don't put products on the market without testing them, yet the digital algorithms that shape our and our children's social networks, educational opportunities, and views on the world are currently never assessed for safety or effectiveness,” said, James Steyer, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Common Sense Media. “Sen. Markey’s proposal provides a much needed roadmap to a healthy algorithmic future. It also provides a number of opportunities for researchers, watchdogs, and families to better understand how platforms operate, how they target us, and what they do with everything we're creating and sharing online."
"Online hate speech can manifest into real-life violence. Latinx lives are at stake because of the lack of transparency and enforcement action by social media platforms,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, President and CEO, National Hispanic Media Coalition. “NHMC applauds Senator Ed Markey for his leadership protecting marginalized communities from online discrimination and hate powered by algorithmic bias through the Algorithmic Justice and Online Transparency Act."
“The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act is an important first step in requiring platforms to take responsibility for their complex content algorithms,” said Sara Collins, Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge. “This bill goes well beyond providing mere transparency about how these algorithms work by requiring companies to verify that their algorithms are performing the way they are meant to perform, as well as by providing users with data portability. And instead of relying solely on governmental entities for enforcement, individuals are able to sue platforms for their discriminatory algorithms. This is the bold first step we need to hold platforms accountable for their algorithms.”
"Policymakers need to address discriminatory practices that for too long have evaded public scrutiny," said Nandita Sampath, Policy Analyst, Consumer Reports. "The Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act is an important proposal to tackle head on the issue of algorithmic bias. We look forward to continuing to work with the sponsors of the bill to seek out the most effective ways to uncover these biases and stop the harms." 
“For far too long, Big Tech and other technology companies have hid behind their black box algorithms to avoid accountability for their civil rights abuses,” said Lisa Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Public Citizen. “We applaud Senator Markey in taking this important first step toward transparency by requiring technology companies to provide basic information about their algorithms, and for reaffirming that discrimination has no place in our economy – and that discrimination in the digital world is no exception.”
“The widespread use of algorithms by companies, especially with regard to the types of content we see online, requires safeguards against a host of discriminatory practices and outcomes. Transparency is essential to ensure that the arsenal of algorithms used to target us or to deny us opportunities operates responsibly,” said Katharina Kopp, Director of Policy, Center for Digital Democracy. “Sen. Markey’s Algorithmic Justice and Online Transparency Act of 2021 provides this important first step and other protections to reign in the growing power of the social media industry in our lives.”
"Consumers face a world where they have little understanding of or recourse over how artificial intelligence algorithms impact their lives,” said Ashley Boyd, Vice President of Advocacy, Mozilla. “That's why it is crucial to have consistent rules to protect people from serious harm and discrimination in AI systems. Senator Markey has long been a champion of a free and open Internet that protects people's rights. His leadership in promoting algorithmic fairness and transparency is a welcome step forward in the fight for trustworthy AI." 
“We deserve to know when an algorithm is making a decision about us, what personal information is analyzed, and how this data is used against us,” said Willmary Escoto, U.S. Policy Analyst, Access Now. “Online platforms have gotten away with profiting off of and exploiting our most personal data for far too long. This bill would help hold companies accountable for unlawful algorithmic processes, and is a serious step towards algorithmic justice and ensuring that the design and deployment of AI-assisted technologies respect civil and human rights.”
“We must extend algorithmic justice and transparency to all users, especially those who would be severely impacted by potential discrimination or media manipulation and mis/disinformation,” said Emily Chi, Assistant Director of Telecom, Tech, and Media, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC. "It is critical that this legislation requires all user notice and reports to be published in every language that platforms offer service in. Providing digital protections in non-English languages is an important step to protecting Asian American and Pacific Islander communities online.”