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White House Outlines Guiding Principles for Big Tech Reform

A White House listening session this week explored the possible negative impacts related to social media platforms, and the Biden administration offered six core principles to increase accountability moving forward.

Digital vector of a group of people in a line all using smartphones while walking towards a large smartphone with a magnet coming out of it.
Six core principles to increase accountability for technology platforms were announced during a White House listening session Sept. 8.

During the session, experts explored the risks and potential harms related to the platforms, identifying concerns in six areas: competition, privacy, youth mental health, misinformation and disinformation, illegal and abusive conduct, and algorithmic discrimination and lack of transparency.

For instance, multiple participants noted issues related to platforms collecting personal data. This data collection could potentially impact reproductive rights and safety, as well as lead to misinformation for the sake of user engagement.

And while positive impacts — like an increased social connection — were noted, so too were the potentials of adverse effects, like addiction.

In an effort to reduce these risks, the Biden-Harris administration unveiled six core principles to guide reforms of platform accountability and competition:

  1. Promote competition in the technology sector.
  2. Provide robust federal protections for Americans’ privacy.
  3. Protect kids by putting in place even stronger privacy and online protections.
  4. Remove special legal protections for large tech platforms.
  5. Increase transparency about platforms’ algorithms and content moderation decisions. 
  6. Stop discriminatory algorithmic decision-making.

Regarding the first principle, the statement notes that a small number of Internet platforms are leveraging their power to exclude other competitors from entering the market. Clear rules could help level the playing field to enable small and mid-sized businesses to compete.

In terms of privacy protections, the administration recommends implementing clear limits on the ability to collect and use personal data — for example, limitations on targeted advertising. This is tied closely to the second principle as it also notes the need to restrict excessive data collection to prioritize the well-being of children.

The reference to removing certain legal protections refers to President Joe Biden’s longstanding belief that reforms to Section 230 are needed to reduce special protections that tech platforms have. This has been a topic of dissent among Congress and other stakeholders, with some concerned that reform’s negative impacts would outweigh the positive.

Another way to improve tech platform accountability is through increased transparency for users and researchers that would help support the sixth principle, which calls for strong protections to ensure algorithms are not discriminatory. This would consist of limiting surveillance and biased advertising.

White House officials said they will keep working to address these harms, in part by working with Congress and stakeholders.