Richard Wingfield (17/12/2021). Transparency. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio. https://platformglossary.info/transparency/.
Author: Richard Wingfield
This entry: (i) sets out the way that the term ‘transparency’ is used in common parlance and (ii) provides examples of existing regulation which relates to transparency.
- Use in common parlance
To an extent, the concept of ‘transparency’ when it comes to online platforms should be understood as falling under the umbrella of “corporate transparency” more broadly, namely the extent to which the actions of the corporation’s actions are observable by outsiders. Some elements of transparency for an online platform will therefore be comparable to other kinds of companies, particularly transparency over the company’s finances.
The use of the term ‘transparency’ in the context of online platforms, however, refers instead to transparency over those actions which are specific to those platforms or of particular perceived importance. In practice, these primarily include actions taken in relation to the content on the platforms, as well as users’ accounts and personal data. Reflecting this, several online platforms publish “transparency reports” providing data and narrative descriptions on what the platform is doing. In practice, the wide variety of different kinds of platforms, and the different kinds of actions that they take, means that a more detailed definition of what constitutes transparency for a platform is challenging; this caveat notwithstanding, examples of some of the more common elements raised during discussions of transparency among online platforms include:
- Clarity over a platform’s content moderation policies and their enforcement, including the content moderation process and opportunities for challenging decisions.
- Detail on content removals, including the quantity of content removed, and the reason for its removal (e.g., for violating a company’s own terms of service or due to a government demand);
- Clarity over a platform’s data protection policies and their enforcement; and
- Detail on data shared with third parties, including governments requests for user data.
Beyond transparency reports, online platforms may seek to increase the level of transparency over their actions in other ways, such as blog posts, pop-ups for users, or libraries of advertisements hosted with details on who funded them and to whom they were targeted.
- Existing regulation
There are an increasing number of examples of national regulations which require certain forms of transparency from online platforms. These include the NetzDG (Germany), which requires platforms of a certain size to publish information on the handling of complaints about unlawful content on their platforms; and the Regulation on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services (European Union), which requires transparency relating to commercial relationships between online platforms and business users.