Facebook CEO Dodges Tough Questions by EU LawmakersMay 22, 2018
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced questions from European Parliament’s most-senior members Tuesday about the social media company’s handling of fake news, elections and user data. Here are the highlights. Photo: Getty Images
apologized to European Union lawmakers over the fake-news and privacy scandals engulfing
but rebuffed suggestions that the company has outsize market power and avoided responding to many difficult questions.
Speaking at a hearing at the European Parliament Tuesday on how the social network handles Europeans’ data, Facebook’s CEO echoed his recent testimony before U.S. Congress on similar issues. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility—that was a mistake and I’m sorry for it,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I’m committed to getting this right.”
European lawmakers pressed him on the steps the company has taken since the revelations that data-analytics firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users. They also questioned Mr. Zuckerberg over the spread of fake news on the Facebook platform, the company’s market power, and how the social network will comply with the EU’s new privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, which enters into force Friday.
Some MEPs fumed that the format of the hearing didn’t allow the CEO to directly respond to all questions posed to him.
As is typical of most European Parliament hearings, Mr. Zuckerberg grouped his responses after all lawmakers spoke. He didn’t respond to questions over whether the social network would ever allow users to opt out of targeted advertising, and whether he thought it was morally correct to collect data on people who don’t use Facebook.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation on data privacy will come into force on May 25, 2018. This video explains how it could affect you, even if you don’t live in the EU.
British Conservative MEP Syed Kamall described the process as a “get out of jail free card” because it gave Mr. Zuckerberg “too much room to avoid the difficult questions.”
Mr. Zuckerberg pledged to follow up on any unanswered questions in writing over the following days and said the company would soon send an executive for a more extensive hearing.
European Parliament President
said the format was his idea.
Other MEPs were dissatisfied by the substance of Mr. Zuckerberg’s responses. Speaking to reporters after the hearing, German leftist MEP Gabriele Zimmer called them “very general answers.” Jan Philipp Albrecht, the German MEP from the Green Party who lead the GDPR negotiations, told reporters: “I am shocked that Zuckerberg didn’t take this seriously at all.”
In response to questions about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook has more tightly restricted the data that outside apps can access and has suspended 200 apps it suspects of having misused user data shared on or through Facebook. He said the company is reviewing thousands more apps and expects more to be removed.
He also said Facebook is working to more broadly protect the integrity of elections, including by encouraging voters to go to the polls and by working with governments to identify misinformation threats in real time. The issue is of interest to MEPs, who face elections next spring.
Mr. Zuckerberg also stressed Facebook’s commitment to Europe, announcing that it would hire an additional 3,000 employees in the region to reach a total of 10,000 by the end of the year.
Seated around a hoop-shaped table in an intimate wood-paneled room in the European Parliament, roughly a dozen European lawmakers individually interrogated the chief executive.
the leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, said more regulation for the company was needed and raised the issue of Facebook’s market dominance. “We should discuss breaking up the Facebook monopoly. Can you convince me not to do so?”
also dug into the question of the company’s market power, stressing that self-regulation wouldn’t be enough to control the company. “We have a big problem here,” he said, asking Mr. Zuckerberg to decide whether he wants to be remembered “in fact as a genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies.”
- What Facebook’s Zuckerberg Could Be Quizzed on at European Hearing (May 22)
- Cambridge Analytica Staff Told Firm Is Liquidating (May 22)
- Facebook Throws More Money at Wiping Out Hate Speech and Bad Actors (May 15)
- Agree to Facebook’s Terms or Don’t Use It (May 11)
- Facebook Posts Surge in Revenue as It Tackles User-Data Crisis (April 25)
In response, Mr. Zuckerberg said the company “exists in a very competitive space, where people use a lot of different tools for communication” adding that advertisers have “a lot of choice” in terms of where they choose to advertise.
The hearing comes amid greater scrutiny of tech giants by authorities and regulators around the world, who are increasingly looking to Europe for direction on how to rein in the Silicon Valley firms over their privacy policies, market power, tax payments and other issues.
The GDPR, the EU’s new privacy law, is one such piece of legislation. Mr. Zuckerberg said the company would be compliant with the new rules by Friday, adding that a large portion of European users already reviewed and consented to the new privacy policies designed to meet the demands of the new law.
Brussels is the first stop for Mr. Zuckerberg as he seeks to calm tensions with European officials. On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg will travel to Paris, where he will attend a government-organized lunch with executives from Uber Technologies Inc.,
and other firms about using technology to promote the common good, and Thursday he will speak at a tech conference.
In Paris, Mr. Zuckerberg will have a private meeting with French President
“No subject will be avoided,” an official at the French presidential palace said of the meeting with Mr. Zuckerberg. “The president is very direct.”
EU and European national regulators for years have been among the most active world-wide in trying to bridle Facebook. A working group of several EU data-protection watchdogs brought sanctions against the company for prior changes to its privacy policies, though some of those decisions were thrown out in court. Some EU regulators are also investigating the company’s use of data about users of chat app WhatsApp, which it bought in 2014 for $22 billion.
Persuading Mr. Zuckerberg to speak was a victory for the 751-member parliament, which is the EU’s most democratic institution but wields little power. Facebook has so far spurned a similar invitation from the U.K. parliament. Mr. Zuckerberg had initially agreed to answer questions in a closed-door meeting. That sparked outrage from many EU politicians and commentators, prompting the parliament to negotiate an agreement to webcast the event.
—Deepa Seetharaman in San Francisco contributed to this article.