Will Facebook CEO be grilled by European Parliament?

26 Apr 2018

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Frederic Legrand - COMEO/Shutterstock

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to face tough questions over the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The co-founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg has apparently agreed to meet with MEPs at the European Parliament next month.

That’s according to Seán Kelly, MEP, who said that Zuckerberg will discuss issues of privacy, data protection and more.

‘Facebook has more users in Europe with over 364m monthly active users here, compared to the US or Canada which account for a combined total of 239m’

Future Human

However, a spokesperson for Facebook has described Kelly’s assertions as speculation at this point.

“We remain strongly committed to protecting people’s information and appreciate any opportunity to answer questions the European Parliament may have,” she said.

“As Mark Zuckerberg said, he wants to make sure the most senior members of his team answer the Parliament’s questions and explain the steps we have taken to protect our users’ data further.”

The CEO of Facebook has been under pressure to appear in both the European Parliament as well as the British parliament to explain how users may have had their data gleaned by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica and how, in turn, that data may have tipped the outcome of the US presidential election and the Brexit vote in 2016.

Despite the scandal, Facebook managed to pull off a record Q1 with revenues up 63pc to almost $12bn.

In recent weeks, Facebook vice-president for global policy Joe Kaplan apologised to an Irish Oireachtas committee for the data breach and promised more robust protections.

Today (26 April), Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer appeared before the UK House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee where MPs grilled him about the Cambridge Analytica affair and why Facebook did not inform users why their data was accessed without their consent.

“It was a mistake that we didn’t inform people at the time,” Schroepfer told MPs.

Zuckerberg appeared before the US Congress in recent weeks and it is widely accepted that he was given an easy enough time of it by senators. But will he get such a warm reception in Europe where data privacy has been a hot potato for years now, and where the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is due to become law on 25 May?

Call for better protections for EU citizens

Kelly said it was crucial the Facebook co-founder made an appearance in Europe to elaborate on the Cambridge Analytica affair.

“Having called for this to happen since we heard of what went on at Cambridge Analytica, this is a welcome development,” said Kelly.

“It is appropriate that Zuckerberg would take the time to come to the European Parliament, given that Facebook has more users in Europe with over 364m monthly active users here, compared to the US or Canada which account for a combined total of 239m,” the Ireland South MEP said.

Kelly continued: “Facebook have admitted the data breaches and said they were let down by Cambridge Analytica and that their own systems were not robust enough. However, they are working to improve them now. Facebook, and their CEO, have said that GDPR is helpful because it will set a global standard.

“Indeed, the GDPR will ensure the better protection of our citizens and create a safer online environment for businesses and the public sphere as well.”

Ahead of Zuckerberg’s appearance before the European Parliament, a new range of measures including a code of conduct for online platforms, an independent network of European fact-checkers and support for quality journalism were announced by MEPs today.

“More people are getting their news online, from social network sites that can be manipulated by algorithms or much worse – those who seek to distort the truth in order to disrupt or influence a democratic society,” said Brian Hayes, MEP.

“In addition, recent scandals such as Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of personal data from Facebook users has again raised concerns over the protection of privacy online. These are all issues that need to be addressed comprehensively.

“The latest Eurobarometer survey of European citizens found that 83pc of respondents said that fake news represents a danger to democracy. The biggest concerns related to intentional disinformation aimed at influencing elections and immigration policies. 33pc of Irish people surveyed said they came across fake news stories every day,” Hayes said.

Updated, 5.15pm, 26 April 2018: This article was updated to include comments from a Facebook spokesperson.

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years