Mixed response to Zuckerberg EU hearing

Written by Martin Banks on 23 May 2018 in News
News

Facebook chief agrees to send a team of top officials to the European Parliament to explain how the company will “fix” problems.

Mark Zuckerberg | Photo credit: Press Association


The CEO of Facebook has agreed to send a team of top officials to the European Parliament to explain how the company will “fix” problems with the site's digital security.

Appearing before the parliament’s senior leaders on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg apologised several times for the massive data leak and told MEPs there would be no repeat of the Cambridge Analytica data leak scandal.

His appearance comes as the EU’s flagship Data Protection Regulation enters into force (25 May), which Brussels hopes will set a new global standard for consumer data privacy.

However, Zuckerberg’s much vaunted appearance ended in rancour after he failed to show up for a news conference after the informal hearing with deputies.


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Zuckerberg said Facebook accounted for six percent of the global advertising market, and he urged MEPs to look through this “important lens”, while talking about 70 million small businesses that use Facebook. Policies had been in place since 2014 preventing app developers from misusing data.

The company, he noted, was likely to find other apps that “we will want to take down” as part of a shift away from a reactive approach to problems on the site. “Now what we’re doing is taking a much more proactive approach. We are going through and investigating ourselves up front.”

He said that a team of experts from Facebook would appear at a meeting of the Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee to explain in detail how it aims to “put things right.”

The American fielded accusations that his company had too much power with Alde group leader Guy Verhoftstadt telling him he was in danger of becoming a “digital monster.”

The Belgian, who arrived late for the meeting because he said he’d been delayed by French strikes, told him, “ You are still having to apologise. I think you have done it 15 times now, said sorry and you will fix things.”

“But are you really capable of fixing it or do we need public regulation. This is like the banking crisis. The banks said they did not need self-regulation but in the end they needed tough regulation.”

“It will take time to put things right but we are doubling our security personnel to 20,000 by the end of the year. Keeping people safe will always be more important than maximising profits” Mark Zuckerberg

“Will you accept the need for regulation instead of saying you will solve everything? Will you compensate those Facebook users in Europe whose profiles have been misused?”

“Will you cooperate with the EU authorities and open your books so we can if there is no monopoly here.”

He added, “We have a big problem here and it is not one that will be solved by saying you will fix it yourself.”

“I think you have to ask how will you, one of three big giants of the tech world, along with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs go down in history?

“Will you be able to say that you have enriched our world or rather a genius who created a digital monster who destroyed society.”

Zuckerberg told MEP that the company had “not done enough” to prevent misuse and that it had also failed to “take a broad enough view of our responsibilities”. “That”, he said, “was a mistake and I apologise for that.”

“Will you accept the need for regulation instead of saying you will solve everything?" Guy Verhoftstadt MEP

“It will take time to put things right but we are doubling our security personnel to 20,000 by the end of the year.”

“Keeping people safe will always be more important than maximising profits.”

The MEPs touched on issues ranging from terrorism, tax and fake news to data protection rules, false accounts and online bullying.

Socialist group leader Udo Bullman, said he was mostly interested in the 2019 European elections  and wanted to know how Facebook could “guarantee no manipulation in the poll from foreign sides.”

The German member said, “Are you ready to guarantee this?”, adding, “I ask as we are at a crossroads and in a critical situation.”

ECR leader Syed Kamall said, “What happened with Cambridge Analytica has rightly raised serious concerns. I am particularly concerned about the public outcry over shadow profiles and want to know how non-users of Facebook will be able to see what data’s been collected. If they cannot we should be told why not.”

"This hearing failed to meet our expectations. Mark Zuckerberg made a lot of vague promises” MEPs Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller

Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right EPP group, said it was time to discuss breaking up Facebook’s monopoly because “it already has too much power.”

UKIP MEP Nigel Farage also questioned Zuckerberg and suggested a bill on online rights for users, demanded transparency in who the fact checkers are, and asked for answers on Facebook's political censorship.

Farage said, “Historically of course it’s true that through Facebook and other forms of social media. There is no way that Brexit or Trump or the Italian elections could ever, possibly have happened. It was social media that allowed people to get round the back of mainstream media.”

“Now perhaps you’re horrified by this creation of yours and what it has led to, I don’t know but what is absolutely true that since January of this year you have changed your modus operandi, you have changed your algorithms and it has led directly to a very substantial drop in views and engagements of those who have right of centre political opinions.”

Afterwards the Co-presidents of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller said, "This hearing failed to meet our expectations. Mark Zuckerberg made a lot of vague promises.”

“All 12 representatives of the European Parliament asked precise questions but Zuckerberg didn’t answer any of them precisely. European Parliament President Tajani made sure that Zuckerberg had an easy way out by not allowing a direct answer to each question, as had been requested by the Greens/EFA group.”

“Parliament was today at the heart of the political debate on this issue and the meeting was very much a success" European Parliament President Antonio Tajani

"A simple apology to European Facebook users is not enough. We want Facebook to put measures in place to make advertising more transparent and prevent misuse of personal data.

"This can’t be the end of the story. We will insist on a follow up and, if needed, additional regulation, for example to achieve transparency on algorithms and prevention of undue interference in elections. We also need to address the problem of digital monopolies."

Tajani, appeared later at a news conference telling reporters that Zuckerberg had already left.

He faced questions about the format of the meeting earlier and said the CEO had agreed to send in written answers to those questions which he’d been unable to answer because of a shortage of time.

He said, “Parliament was today at the heart of the political debate on this issue and the meeting was very much a success. However, apologies are not enough and we will now look for further commitment and we will follow this up to make sure these commitments are honoured. Clearly, the Cambridge Analytic scandal should not happen again.”

He pointed out that new EU rules on data protection come into force in two days and said MEPs “will continue to monitor developments.”

“There were some complaints from group leaders about there not being enough time for answers from Zuckerberg but the conference of presidents decided the format. He is not an EU citizen and he was not obliged to come.

“Even so, the meeting lasted over 90 minutes. There were a large number of questions and he spent 30 mins responding to them. The meeting was supposed to end at 7.30pm but finished at 7.50pm so it lasted longer than envisaged.

“Everyone knew he would have to leave in a hurry.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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