Ensuring Platform Transparency and Accountability

Author: Brandie Nonnecke


Open-source investigations and public interest research using platform data (e.g., Facebook, YouTube) have enabled the collection of evidence of human rights atrocities, identified the role of foreign adversaries in manipulating public opinion before elections, and uncovered the prevalence and reach of terrorist radicalization and recruitment tactics. Nascent data privacy legislation such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act have placed increased pressure on platforms to restrict third party access to data. In an overly cautious interpretation of these laws, platforms are increasingly restricting third-party access to the data they collect. In doing so, platforms shield themselves from public scrutiny and accountability.

To support transparency and accountability of platforms, the next administration should work with Congress to ensure that any new data privacy legislation proposed at the federal level does not inadvertently block the ability of third parties to gain access to platform data for open-source investigations and public interest research. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should take the lead by convening a workshop among key actors to make progress on these goals. Out of the workshop, a federal working group should be formed to develop principles and operational guides to support ethical third-party access to platform data, including the formation of technical standards to ensure data privacy and security.

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About the Author

Brandie Nonnecke, PhD is Founding Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab, headquartered at UC Berkeley. Brandie has expertise in tech policy and internet governance. She is the founder of the Public Interest Research Alliance (PIRA), a multi-stakeholder, non-binding coalition committed to the establishment of shared principles and operational guides for the appropriate collection, storage, and use of platform data for public interest research. She is a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and recently served as a fellow at the Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub and at the World Economic Forum on the Council on the Future of the Digital Economy and Society. Her research publications, op-eds, and presentations are available at nonnecke.com.