EU Lawmakers Pile on Zuckerberg

May 22, 2018

By Alisha Haridasani and Jacqueline Corba

European lawmakers aggressively questioned Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, indicating they may consider further restricting the social media company's unchecked growth and regulating its business practices.

Zuckerberg, meeting publicly with members of the European Parliament in Brussels, again apologized for the company's failure to protect the personal data of millions of Facebook users from a third-party app that shared their information with the British research firm Cambridge Analytica.

"We haven't done enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm," Zuckerberg said Tuesday, echoing the apology he offered Congress in testimony last month in Washington. "That was a mistake."

But European lawmakers were even more confrontational than their American counterparts, piling questions on Zuckerberg over Facebook's failure to combat fake news, thwart foreign interference in democratic elections, and limit the access of private data collected from its users.

"They asked very intelligent questions that were drawn from the hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives, building on them in very interesting ways," said Adi Robertson, a senior reporter for The Verge.

A German member of the European Parliament asked pointedly about Facebook’s market share, and whether it should be subject to antitrust regulations, a common theme in Tuesday's questions.

“It is time to discuss breaking Facebook’s monopoly because it’s already too much power in only one hand?” said Manfred Weber, the head of the European Parliament’s majority party, the European People's Party.

Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgium leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, suggested the company should consider splitting up WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger. “Could you or would you cooperate with the European antitrust authorities?” he asked Zuckerberg.

This line of questioning about Facebook's monopoly position was very "aggressive," said Roberson.

After all of the lawmakers asked their questions, Zuckerberg chose a few to answer at the end of the session, and he vowed to respond to the rest with written statements. With so many of their questions unanswered and no time remaining, the meeting bizarrely descended into back-and-forth bickering among lawmakers over the flawed format of the hearing.

"It seems like even people who were there on the floor were sort of baffled by the choice of panel," said Robertson.

Zuckerberg's questioning took place days before Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, goes into effect. The new law, one of the most sweeping privacy protection laws in the world, requires all companies to share how online user data is used and offer users the option to delete their data. Companies that fail to comply can be fined up to 4 percent of their global revenue.

Zuckerberg said Tuesday that Facebook would extend to users elsewhere in the world the same data privacy protections that European citizens will have under the new law.

“At the heart of Europe’s new data protection law, the GDPR, are three important principles: control, transparency, and accountability,” he said. “We’ve always shared these values.”

For the full interview, click here.