facebook founder Speaks To European Parliament

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is meeting with European Union Parliament President Antonio Tajani and other leaders on Tuesday, to discuss allegations that personal data of European Facebook users was misused.

A protester holds a European Union flag next to cardboard cutouts depicting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as Zuckerberg and leaders of the European Parliament prepare to meet in Brussels.
Francois Lenoir/Reuters.

The talks with also touch on the potential impact of social media and privacy worries on Europe’s elections that are slated for next year.

The session started with Tajani delivering an opening speech, followed by Zuckerberg. Next up, according to the EU schedule: questions from EU leaders, and Zuckerberg’s responses. The discussion will close with a statement by Tajani.

Zuckerberg is appearing in Brussels a month after Facebook introduced “new privacy experiences” to comply with EU regulations that are meant to give users more control over their personal data and prevent abuse.

The EU session also follows revelations that the now-defunct data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to deepen divides among voters, often by exploiting paranoia and racial biases, as a former employee of the company told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Each of the members of the European Parliament in today’s session get 3 minutes to ask a question; Zuckerberg will reply to them all at the end.

An apology from Facebook “is absolutely needed,” Germany’s Mandred Weber said. He then asked whether Cambridge Analytica is an isolated case. And he asked why Zuckerberg did not tell users sooner that Facebook data had been misused.

Britain’s Syed Kamall of the European Conservative Group asked Zuckerberg, “How can non-users stop Facebook collecting their data?” He also asked how Facebook commercializes that data.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian leader of the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, opens his remarks by comparing Zuckerberg to the CEO of an “out of control” big data company in novelist Dave Eggers’ book The Circle.

“It seems to me, very near to reality,” Verhofstadt said, noting that the fictional company’s data is used to affect elections.

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He added, “also the fact that maybe you have less control, or no control, about your own company for the moment, because you have to apologize now – I think in total you apologized now 15 or 16 times” in the last decade.

“Are you capable to it fix?” Verhofstadt asked Zuckerberg. before mentioning the way public regulations cover banks – which often say they will fix their own problems. He then moved on to equally pointed questions.

“Are you telling the truth, in fact, to us?” he asked the Facebook CEO about the company’s pledge to adhere to Europe’s privacy laws.

“Since the outbreak of Cambridge Analytica, you have massively transferred European data of non-European citizens out from Europe, away from European servers,” Verhofstadt said.

“I have to tell you, that’s against the regulations,” Verhofstadt said, wagging his finger. He added that the company had taken the same step with data it has collected about Europeans who are not Facebook users.

He then asked, “Will you compensate the European Facebook users?”

One approach, Verhofstadt said, would be to base a payment on the value each person brings to the company through their social media account.

“My value as a Facebook user is $186,” Verhofstadt said. “I thought it was more, but… maybe my wife thinks it’s less.”

Verhofstadt asked Zuckerberg whether Facebook will open its books to show whether the company is a monopoly – and how it might resolve that question.”

“I really think we have a big problem here,” Verhofstadt said.

“You have to ask yourself how you will be remembered: As one of the three big Internet giants, together with Steve Jobs … and Bill Gates, who have enriched our world and our societies – or at the other hand, in fact, [as] a genius who created a digital monster, that is destroying our democracies and our societies.”

“We are the regulators,” Tajani said at the start of the session, describing a new system of operating in the digital market.

Zuckerberg says “it’s also become clear” that Facebook hadn’t done enough to prevent abuse by companies and other entities that use apps to access users’ information.

” I’m committed to getting this right, ” he said.

Discussing “important elections globally” over the next 18 months, Zuckerberg said, “We weren’t prepared enough” for the type of social media attacks and manipulation that have now emerged.

This year, Facebook is doubling the number of people working on security, to more than 20,000 employees by the end of 2018.

In addition to concerns about hundreds of millions of EU voters being able to act without worrying about false and warped information and opinions, Tajani said social media companies must also work to prevent being used as tools by terrorists.

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