Zuckerberg to be grilled by EU Parliament, British lawmakers ask for answers


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be in Europe to defend the company after alleged misuse of its data by Cambridge Analytica
PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - Mr Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, plans to strike a conciliatory note when he speaks to members of the European Parliament on Tuesday (May 22), in the latest stop on his apology tour for the social network's mishandling of user information.

Mr Zuckerberg is expected to stick to what has become a well-used script when he appears before European lawmakers in Brussels on Tuesday evening.

The chief executive intends to say that Facebook did not do enough to prevent the social network from being used for harm, according to an excerpt from his prepared remarks viewed by The New York Times.

"Whether it's fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people's information, we didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibilities," Mr Zuckerberg plans to say, according to the prepared remarks.

"That was a mistake, and I'm sorry."

The language closely mirrors what Mr Zuckerberg told members of Congress last month when he went to Washington for a two-day grilling over how Facebook handled the data of tens of millions of its users.

The New York Times and others had revealed in March that a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had improperly used the information of Facebook members to build psychographic profiles of American voters, setting off a data privacy storm.

Since then, Mr Zuckerberg has posted a public apology for the scandal, accepting personal responsibility for the data leak and vowing to "step up".

The Silicon Valley company has also announced new privacy and security settings and begun an advertising campaign in which it has promised to clean up the social network.

In his appearance in front of Congress last month, Mr Zuckerberg said, "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I'm sorry."

Mr Zuckerberg has been under pressure for weeks to appear in front of lawmakers in Europe, where officials have been more proactive than in the United States in regulating the tech giants.

His appearance before the European Parliament on Tuesday comes just days before the region's introduction of new regulations for protecting data privacy, known as the General Data Protection Regulation.

Under the rules, European regulators will have the power to fine companies up to 4 per cent of their global revenue for violations - a sum equivalent to US$1.6 billion (S$2.14 billion) in Facebook's case.

British lawmakers want their European counterparts to question Mr Zuckerberg about the scandal, as he has so far declined to answer questions in British Parliament, either in person or via video link.

Mr Damian Collins, chair of the British Parliament's media committee, said on Tuesday that he believed Mr Zuckerberg should still appear before British lawmakers.

"But if Mark Zuckerberg chooses not to address our questions directly, we are asking colleagues at the European Parliament to help us get answers - particularly on who knew what at the company, and when, about the data breach and the non-transparent use of political adverts which continue to undermine our democracy," he said in a statement.

Mr Collins outlined deficiencies in Facebook's answers so far in a letter to Ms Rebecca Stimson, head of public policy at Facebook UK, which has been shared with the EU lawmakers who will question Mr Zuckerberg. Ms Collins requested a response from Facebook to his questions by June 4.

But the lawmakers have said his testimony and subsequent written answers from the firm to follow-up questions have been inadequate.

Mr Zuckerberg's decision to meet with members of the European Parliament was disclosed last week, when Mr Antonio Tajani, the president of the body, tweeted that the chief executive would visit this week.

It quickly became clear that the conditions for Mr Zuckerberg's appearance were favourable for him because the European Parliament does not directly regulate Facebook or other technology companies and because it had agreed to a closed-door session with the chief executive.

That created a backlash, with several European lawmakers quickly threatening to not attend the meeting if it was not made public.

On Sunday, Mr Tajani tweeted that it was "great news" that Mr Zuckerberg had agreed to a live web broadcast of the session after all.

Facebook accepted a live-stream after fears that a boycott by European lawmakers would grab even more headlines and detract from the message of the meeting, according to an official within Facebook, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak publicly.

On Tuesday, Mr Zuckerberg is also expected to assure European lawmakers that Facebook is "committed to Europe", according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

He plans to cite Facebook's European headquarters in Ireland as an example, as well as the company's offices in London, where the social network has its largest engineering team outside the United States.

"By the end of 2018, Facebook will employ 10,000 people across 12 European cities - up from 7,000 today. And we will continue to invest," Mr Zuckerberg intends to say.

"Europeans make up a large and incredibly important part of our global community."

After Mr Zuckerberg testifies to the European Parliament, he is scheduled to make other stops in Europe.

On Wednesday, he is set to have lunch with the French President, Mr Emmanuel Macron, in Paris to discuss a range of issues.

Mr Zuckerberg will also be interviewed onstage at the Viva Technology conference in Paris on Thursday in a conversation that will be live-streamed.

Source: The Straits Times

 


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