Mechanisms for Researcher Access to Online Platform Data

Status Report by the EU/USA: “Academic and civil society research on prominent online platforms has become a crucial way to understand the information environment and its impact on our societies. Scholars across the globe have leveraged application programming interfaces (APIs) and web crawlers to collect public user-generated content and advertising content on online platforms to study societal issues ranging from technology-facilitated gender-based violence, to the impact of media on mental health for children and youth. Yet, a changing landscape of platforms’ data access mechanisms and policies has created uncertainty and difficulty for critical research projects.

The United States and the European Union have a shared commitment to advance data access for researchers, in line with the high-level principles on access to data from online platforms for researchers announced at the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council (TTC) Ministerial Meeting in May 2023.1 Since the launch of the TTC, the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) has gone into effect, requiring providers of Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) and Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs) to provide increased transparency into their services. The DSA includes provisions on transparency reports, terms and conditions, and explanations for content moderation decisions. Among those, two provisions provide important access to publicly available content on platforms:

• DSA Article 40.12 requires providers of VLOPs/VLOSEs to provide academic and civil society researchers with data that is “publicly accessible in their online interface.”
• DSA Article 39 requires providers of VLOPs/VLOSEs to maintain a public repository of advertisements.

The announcements related to new researcher access mechanisms mark an important development and opportunity to better understand the information environment. This status report summarizes a subset of mechanisms that are available to European and/or United States researchers today, following, in part VLOPs and VLOSEs measures to comply with the DSA. The report aims at showcasing the existing access modalities and encouraging the use of these mechanisms to study the impact of online platform’s design and decisions on society. The list of mechanisms reviewed is included in the Appendix…(More)”