Facebook's Zuckerberg grilled as European politicians signal strong stance on consumer privacy

Marco Green
May 23, 2018

By design, though, Zuckerberg answered all of lawmakers' questions at once at the end of the hearing.

Zuckerberg was originally set to talk to the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament, which is made up of the heads of the body's eight main political groups, behind closed doors. But after criticism from several European politicians, Zuckerberg agreed to a public hearing in Brussels that would be streamed live.

Sticking close to his prepared remarks, Mark Zuckerberg began his testimony with an apology similar to the one he offered United States lawmakers last month.

"We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a mistake and I am sorry for it", Zuckerberg told European Union lawmakers, as he pledged a commitment to keeping Facebook's users safe and making changes to the platform to prevent the spread of fake news and misinformation, in the future. By the end of the year, Zuckerberg promised the company will have 20,000 employees working on safety and security. "I want to be clear", he said.

But the event, which lasted an hour and a half, saw Zuckerberg fail to satisfy European demands for answers and the European Parliament roundly mocked for using a format that let the Facebook boss get away with it. MEPs asked all their questions before the Facebook boss had to respond, leaving them with no time to follow up.

As the session drew to a close, Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, was forced to contend with MEPs who were angry that Zuckerberg had not been pressed to answer numerous questions put to him.

"I have no doubt that Mr. Zuckerberg is a genius, but there is a risk his legacy will be that he created a company akin to Frankenstein's monster, which spiraled out of his own control". He noted the similarities between Facebook and the global banking system, which assured watchdogs in 2006 that it was doing a great job of self-regulation.

Tackling other questions, he also said he expected to find other apps that had misused customer data and pointed out that an internal investigation into thousands of third-party developers to see if there similar cases to the Cambridge Analytica scandal would take "many months".

Multiple members of the European Parliament pressed Zuckerberg on whether Facebook is a monopoly, with one asking whether the CEO could convince him that the company does not need to be broken up.Zuckerberg said Facebook exists "in a very competitive space", pointing out people use different tools to communicate.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who was perhaps the most feisty of the lawmakers, asked whether Facebook would compensate its users, a provision included in the GDPR (a common argument among Facebook observers is that users are actually free laborers for the company, and advertisers are the real customers).

"And when we address these challenges, I know we'll look back and view helping people connect and giving more people a voice as a positive force here in Europe and around the world", he said. He denied the company is a monopoly or that it suppresses speech based on political content. "Is the only way to prevent Facebook from collecting my data to avoid the internet altogether?" The North Carolina sisters claimed that six months ago, traffic on their Facebook page dropped precipitously and they were subsequently deemed "unsafe to the community". Some sort of regulation is "inevitable.it's about getting it right".

This frustrated the panel even more, and resulted in Lamberts accusing Zuckerberg of intentionally choosing the meeting's setup strategically. He argued that rather than suppressing competition, Facebook allows small businesses to access the same digital marketing and advertising tools once available only to large companies.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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