May 22, 2018
Facebook founder spends 30 minutes giving answers to 60 minutes of MEPs’ questions
No repeat of data scandal, vows Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels
Mark Zuckerberg has told members of the European Parliament there will be no repeat of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, as he faced accusations that Facebook has too much power.
He said policies in place since 2014 prevented any app developer from misusing data. But he said Facebook 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 told MEPs.
It was the latest leg in the Facebook apology tour after the Observer reported that the personal data of tens of millions of people was harvested and shared with the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. Facebook admitted that the data of 87 million users may have been improperly shared, including that of 1 million users in the UK.
There was criticism that Zuckerberg was allowed to choose what to answer during the session in Brussels, as MEPs asked dozens of consecutive overlapping questions. He spent around 30 minutes giving answers to 60 minutes of questions.
“I realise there were a lot of specific questions that I didn’t get around to answer,” the Facebook founder said, promising that his colleagues would provide written replies.
Damian Collins, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee, which Zuckerberg has refused three times to appear before, tweeted:
The 90-minute hearing broke up with tetchy exchanges between the MEPs, led by the liberal leader, Guy Verhofstadt, who complained he had received no answers to his charge that Facebook had monopoly power.
Verhofstadt had called on Facebook to cooperate with the EU’s antitrust authorities. “Are you in fact a genius who creates a digital monster that is destroying our societies?” he asked.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s party centre-right group, the largest in the European parliament, said it was time to discuss breaking up Facebook’s monopoly because “it is already too much power”.
The European parliament has no power to break up Facebook, but theinterventions will increase the pressure on the European commission’s antitrust arm to scrutinise the company more closely.
Zuckerberg said Facebook accounted for 6% of the global advertising market, and he urged MEPs to look through this “important lens”, while talking about 70m small businesses that use Facebook.
The MEPs touched on issues ranging from terrorism, tax and fake news to data protection rules, false accounts and online bullying.
A few noted their own follower numbers. “I am your best client here in the room,” said Nigel Farage, who boasted he had more Facebook followers than any other MEP.
The former Ukip leader accused Facebook of censoring him and other right-leaning politicians. “What is absolutely true is that since January this year you’ve changed your algorithms, and it’s led to a substantial drop to views and engagements for those who’ve got right-of-centre political opinions. On average we’re down about 25% over the course of this year,” he said.
“I’m not talking about extremism. What interests me is: who decides what is acceptable? Who are these third-party fact-checkers? Why is there no transparency in this process?”
Farage had a place at the questioners’ table as he leads the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group. The panel comprised 12 MEPs who lead the parliament’s political groups, plus the European parliament president, Antonio Tajani.
In his opening remarks Zuckerberg stuck to the script he used when he faced US lawmakers last month. “In 2016 we were too slow to identify Russian interference in the US presidential election. We weren’t prepared enough for the kind of coordinated misinformation operations we are now aware of,” he said.
The session took place three days before the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect. The GDPR, which replaces a 1996 law, boosts people’s rights online, such as by ensuring companies get consent before using data rather than taking silence as assent. Companies breaking the rules can be fined €20bn or 4% of their global turnover.
The European commission, which is responsible for drafting EU law, has warned Facebook and other social media companies that it could draw up regulations to tackle misuse of personal data and misinformation unless they clean up their acts.
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