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Zuckerberg apologizes to EU Parliament over data scandal

May 22, 2018

After being grilled by the US Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a barrage of questions from EU lawmakers over data leaks. The meeting came just days before the EU's new data protection law comes into effect.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook-CEO
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

Zuckerberg apologizes to EU over data leak

Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg faced a barrage of questions from European Parliament leaders in a livestreamed meeting on Tuesday.

Although Zuckerberg once again apologized for a data leak scandal and said Facebook will comply with the EU's tough new data protection law, he still left many specific questions unanswered.

What Zuckerberg said in Brussels:

The format of the meeting meant all MEPs asked their questions one after another, allowing Zuckerberg in the end to pick and choose which questions to answer before time ran out. He grouped his responses by theme: 

  • Apologizing for data leaks: "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibilities. That was a mistake, and I'm sorry."
  • Complying with EU data law: Facebook "expects to be fully compliant" when the law comes into effect on Friday.
  • He did not, however, address MEP concerns over Facebook's targeted advertisement permissions and its recent move to shift data to servers based outside of Europe.
  • Fighting fake news: Zuckerberg broke down the issue into three areas — spammers, fake accounts, and people sharing false information. He added that Facebook is using artificial intelligence to identify fake accounts, which he said comprise less than 1 percent of the platform's accounts.
  • Alleged anti-conservative content bias: "We have never and will not make decisions about what content is allowed or how we do ranking on the basis of a political orientation."

Read more: The Zuckerberg hearing as it happened

MEPs disappointed in Zuckerberg answers: 

EU lawmakers left the meeting underwhelmed with the Facebook CEO's answers, as well as angered by the format of the meeting.

The tightly scheduled 90-minute meeting involved the heads of the EU Parliament's parties as well as several comittee representatives. Much of the time was taken up with MEPs listing off their questions and concerns, with little time for responses to Zuckerberg's answers, when he was able to deliver them.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani
Zuckerberg was also asked to convince MEPS that Facebook shouldn't be broken up as a monopolyImage: Getty Images/AFP/T. Roge

Jan Philipp Albrecht, digital policy spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament, told DW that Zuckerberg had "lost a lot of credibility," and that "Facebook and other big internet companies realize they can't mess with the EU."

"The European Union can't trust Facebook to solve the problems on its own and to protect users in Europe on its own," added Albrecht, who was one of the driving forces behind the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The center-left Socialists and Democrats Group fired back against the meeting on Twitter, saying: "This format does not allow for any real answers. Mark Zuckerberg is getting away without responding to citizens concerns."

Manfred Weber, a German MEP and leader of the center-right European People's Party, wrote on Twitter that Zuckerberg "was not very convincing" and said his data protection promises were "not enough."

Transparency concerns: The European Parliament ultimately decided to stream the meeting online after facing backlash from MEPs and EU citizens. The hearing was originally planned to take place behind closed doors with a select number of MEPs. Zuckerberg also originally tried to send a junior executive.

Cambridge Analytica scandal: Facebook came under increased scrutiny after it was revealed that the personal data of 87 million Facebook users wound up in the hands of British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which worked for US President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Up to 2.7 million of those Facebook users were based in the EU.

EU beefs up data protection

What is the new EU data law: The GDPR requires companies to get explicit consent from users to share data with third parties. People will also have the right to know what information the company has gathered and demand it be deleted. The law goes into effect on May 25.

rs/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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