Mark Zuckerberg to visit European Parliament

Written by Martin Banks and Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 18 May 2018 in News
News

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to a private meeting with the leaders of Parliament’s political groups.

Mark Zuckerberg | Photo credit: Press Association


The meeting will be held on Tuesday next week and, according to a Parliament spokesperson, is a chance for the American billionaire “to clarify issues related to the use of personal data.”

Despite many MEPs’ demands, the discussion will take place behind closed doors. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents on Thursday.

Group leaders, some committee chairs and Greens MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who was Parliament’s rapporteur on the general data protection regulation (GDPR), are expected to attend the meeting. The GDPR provides for penalties of up to four per cent of annual sales in cases of abuse and will be implemented from 25 May.


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In April, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, MEPs had urged Zuckerberg to come to Brussels to answer their questions on the misuse of European citizens’ personal data and expressed concerns about the effects of social media, fake news and election manipulation on democratic processes.

The affair was seen as a wakeup call to the need to ensure data protection against political and commercial use of personal data.

Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, had agreed to a hearing only if certain conditions were met and instead of the usual meeting in a specialist committee, it will be “behind closed doors.” This decision has angered some MEPs.

In a statement, S&D group leader Udo Bullmann and Claude Moraes, Chair of Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said, “European Facebook users need to be treated the same way as their US counterparts, with an open and transparent hearing in the civil liberties committee. We will push for this to happen.”

Meanwhile, ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt said he would not attend the meeting with Zuckerberg if it is held behind closed doors.

Further comment came from Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller, co-leaders of the Greens/EFA group, who said, “It is good that Zuckerberg will finally have to answer questions in Parliament but given the deep mistrust caused by the Cambridge Analytica scandal this meeting must be public. There should not be double standards for the US Congress and Parliament.”

They said it was “outrageous” that Parliament President Antonio Tajani had “teamed up with conservatives and the far-right in bowing to Facebook pressure to help keep Zuckerberg away from public scrutiny.”

However, other MEPs welcomed the news of Zuckerberg’s visit to Parliament. EPP group leader Manfred Weber said, “Good to hear that Mark Zuckerberg will come to the European Parliament.

This is a strong message that Parliament is sending to European consumers. Facebook users deserve a proper answer to what has happened to their data. We will continue to defend their rights.”

Elsewhere, ECR group co-leader Syed Kamall said, “This will be a good opportunity for Zuckerberg to demonstrate that Facebook understand our concerns and show they’re protecting data and applying EU rules and standards.

“The meeting should be about providing real answers and educating the public, but I am concerned that some in the Parliament will want to turn this issue into a witch hunt of large companies, which doesn't benefit anyone.”

Tajani, in a statement, noted, “Our citizens deserve a full and detailed explanation. I welcome Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to appear in person before the representatives of 500 million Europeans. It is a step in the right direction towards restoring confidence.”

The Italian MEP added, “This hearing will provide members of the civil liberties committee, as well as other relevant committees, with an opportunity to carry out an in-depth analysis of aspects related to personal data protection. Particular emphasis will be placed on the potential impact on electoral processes in Europe.

“Parliament’s priority is to ensure the proper functioning of the digital market, with a high level of protection for personal data, effective rules on copyright and the protection of consumer rights.

Web giants must be responsible for the content they publish, including blatantly false news and illegal content. Freedom must always be accompanied by responsibility.”

 

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist for the Parliament Magazine

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