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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced a bill that would require online platforms to let users opt out of having personal data-driven algorithms select the content they see, according to a copy of the text shared exclusively with Axios.

Driving the news: Recent revelations about Facebook's internal research findings have renewed lawmaker interest in bills that seek to give people more of a say in how algorithms shape their online experiences.

Why it matters: The bill shows that anger over how platforms use their algorithms to target users with specialized content is a bipartisan issue with momentum on Capitol Hill.

  • The algorithms that personalize content on social networks and other apps can make services addictive, violate users' privacy and promote extremism, critics and many lawmakers argue. Conservatives have also claimed that services deliberately censor their speech.

What's happening: The Filter Bubble Transparency Act would require internet platforms to let people use a version of their services where content is not selected by "opaque algorithms" driven by personal data. It's sponsored by Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and Burgess Owens (R-Utah).

  • The Senate version of the bill, also bipartisan, is sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), an influential member of Republican leadership. Buck and Cicilline are the bipartisan duo responsible for passing six antitrust bills out of the House Judiciary committee in June.
  • Buck and Thune plan to work together on tech and antitrust issues going forward, a Republican aide told Axios. That could boost the chances of such bills passing muster with Senate Republicans in the future.

What they're saying: "Consumers should have the option to engage with internet platforms without being manipulated by secret algorithms driven by user-specific data," said Buck.

  • Cicilline said: "Facebook and other dominant platforms manipulate their users through opaque algorithms that prioritize growth and profit over everything else. And due to these platforms’ monopoly power and dominance, users are stuck with few alternatives to this exploitative business model, whether it is in their social media feed, on paid advertisements, or in their search results."

Flashback: Last month, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee introduced a bill that would remove online platforms' protection from content liability if they used algorithmic ranking to deliver content that caused harm.

Details: The bill would exempt smaller companies with fewer than 500 employees, those with annual gross receipts lower than $50,000,000 in the last three-year-period, and those that gather data on fewer than one million users annually.

Yes, but: Legislative days in 2021 are running out as Democratic lawmakers scramble to pass President Biden's spending bill.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the law aims to cover algorithms that select content based on personal data.

Go deeper

Nov 30, 2021 - Technology

U.K. regulators order Facebook-owner Meta to sell Giphy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Regulators in the U.K. on Tuesday said they have directed Facebook parent company Meta to sell Giphy after finding "the takeover could reduce competition between social media platforms and increase Facebook's already significant market power."

Why it matters: Facebook agreed to buy Giphy in May of last year for an estimated price of $400 million. The deal almost immediately invited antitrust scrutiny, given the increased attention to Facebook's growing market power.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 4 mins ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.