On the proposed “Social Media Disclosure and Transparency of Advertisements (DATA) Act” (and how it could be better)

21st May 2021 | Share:

There’s new legislation being proposed in the US by Congresswoman Lori Trahan to increase advertising transparency. 

It has lots of good things in it, including:

  • Specific definitions of the data that should be disclosed, including targeting and engagement
  • Development of common standards across platforms for disclosure
  • Oversight of how it’s implemented

If we ever wrote a bill requiring ad transparency, this is pretty close to what it’d look like. It’s four years since we wrote down a spec for ad transparency that’s broadly the same (as is the spec we co-wrote with Mozilla, from 2019, and our proposal for an ad transparency standard, from last year). It’s a good thing that demands for transparency are pretty stable and consistent across time and geography.

But… there is one problem with the proposed law. It’s focused on ‘academic access’ to advertising data.

While academics do vital research on social media (we’re involved in a number of ad related projects with universities), the proposed law misses the need for real time, public interest and journalistic research on the use of ads, particularly in the context of time-sensitive events such as elections.

Holding political actors to account isn’t the role of a 3-5 year long academic research project. PhDs don’t bring down Presidents.

If platforms and campaigns are moving fast, so must scrutiny.

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