Zuckerberg fails to impress with responses to Parliament's follow-up questions

Written by Martin Banks on 25 May 2018 in News

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has refused to be drawn on whether the tech giant will compensate users whose personal data has been misused.

Mark Zuckerberg | Photo credit: Press Association

He has sent a set of replies to outstanding questions that were left unanswered at his much-vaunted meeting with European Parliament group leaders earlier this week, which some have said was a “missed opportunity.”

In the letter, Zuckerberg also admits his company is powerless to eradicate fake accounts but goes on to pledge to help tackle the spread of fake news.

The Facebook founder met on Tuesday with Parliament President Antonio Tajani, the leaders of each of the political groups and also Jan Albrecht, Parliament’s rapporteur on GDPR.


Details of his reply to MEPs come as the EU wide regulation which aims to bolster the personal data rights of citizens formally entered into force on Friday.

The meeting last 90 minutes, but the Facebook chief spent only 30 minutes answering a wide range of questions. He also failed to appear, as scheduled, at a news conference in Parliament afterwards.

Following a request by Tajani, Facebook has now sent answers to the remaining questions posed by MEPs that Zuckerberg did not have the time to cover during the meeting.

The answers deal with topics such as the Cambridge Analytica data breach, ‘shadow profiles’, data from non-Facebook users and fake accounts.

On Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg was asked if his company would compensate European Facebook users, as is now required under GDPR.

He replied, “This was clearly a breach of trust. However, it’s important to remember that no bank account details, credit card information or national ID numbers were shared. Most people gave the app at issue here access to information like their public profile as well their page likes, friend list and birthday. 

“It was the same for friends’ whose settings allowed sharing. In addition, Aleksandr Kogan, the app developer in this case, contracted to sell the information of people in the US - not people in the EU - to Cambridge Analytica and Kogan himself testified that he only transferred the data of US users. 

“We have seen no evidence that Kogan shared data about European users with them. And we will conduct a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica, which we hope to complete as soon as we are authorised by the UK’s Information Commissioner.”

Zuckerberg was also asked by MEPs if Facebook would “commit to eradicate all remaining fake accounts by the end of the quarter, and systematically prevent the creation going forward.”

On this, he replied, “We’re committed to doing everything we can to keep fake accounts off Facebook. But we cannot promise to eradicate them because security is not a problem you ever fully solve. 

“We face sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are constantly evolving. The good news is that over the past year, we’ve gotten increasingly better at finding and disabling fake accounts. We now block millions of fake accounts each day as people try to create them thanks to improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

In his replies to the 18 specific questions, he pointed out that Facebook represents a “small part”, just six per cent, of “this $650bn global media ecosystem.”

When asked about the company’s third-party fact-checkers, Zuckerberg said, “Nobody wants fake news on Facebook, and one of the ways we fight it is by working with third-party fact-checkers to review and rate the accuracy of articles and posts on Facebook. These fact-checkers are independent and certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. 

“When these organisations rate something as false, we rank those stories significantly lower in users’ news feeds. On average, this cuts future views by more than 80 per cent. We also use the information from fact-checkers to improve our technology so we can identify more potential false news faster in the future. We’re looking forward to bringing this program to more countries this year.”

However, Sven Giegold, Parliament’s Greens/EFA group financial and economic policy spokesperson, was still unhappy, and accused Zuckerberg of having “dodged the MEPs’ clear questions.”

He said the American had given “no clear answers to tough questions.”

He said, “We should not allow Facebook to continue exchanging data from Facebook and Whatsapp against the general data protection regulation. Mobile phone apps should no longer force users to give out their friends’ contacts and other unnecessary data for a personal service. Facebook is no longer allowed to keep shadow accounts with non-user data and has to respect European law in this regard.”

He added, “Just as Europe has placed major banks under EU banking supervision, we now need to create a European digital supervisor for major digital companies such as Facebook and Google. The Christian Democrats must not continue to court Facebook, as Antonio Tajani did this week.”

He goes on, “It is time for European democracy to consistently regulate economic and political power in digitisation.”

The German MEP said, “The publication of all targeted political advertising announced by Zuckerberg is not sufficient to protect democratic elections and decision-making. In order to guarantee the legitimacy of democratic elections and referendums, Facebook must disclose funding, sources and target groups for all political advertising.”


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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