Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Sails Through E.U. Parliament Grilling
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg managed to dodge tough questioning by European Union parliamentary members on Tuesday during a hearing about the company’s data collection practices.
The parliamentary members asked thorough, multi-part questions about Facebook’s policies and global operations. But because their questions were grouped together at the beginning of the roughly hour-and-a-half long session, Zuckerberg was able to mostly ignore them when it was finally his turn to speak.
Instead, he reiterated the company’s recent talking points around its efforts to clean up its service like hiring more monitors and combating fake news.
Several EU politicians brought up previous questions Zuckerberg ducked during two U.S. congressional hearings in April in Washington D.C. Similar to the EU parliamentary hearing, the U.S. congressional hearings were intended to look into Facebook’s response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which involved an academic obtaining and selling Facebook user data to a political consulting firm, and the company’s repeated privacy blunders that forced its executives to repeatedly apologize and pledge to do better.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s party in the European Parliament, kicked off questioning during the hearing on Tuesday by first commending Zuckerberg for apologizing for the company’s lapses and voluntarily appearing for the hearing. The German politician then asked Zuckerberg a series of questions that included the following:
Can Facebook guarantee that another Cambridge Analytica scandal will not occur within the next year?
Did Zuckerberg personally make the decision against notifying its users when the company learned of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a question Weber noted, was similar to one U.S. Senator Kamala Harris asked during the recent U.S. Congressional hearing?
Would Facebook be open to a discussion about whether it should open its secretive algorithms to the public to ensure transparency?
Zuckerberg did not respond to these questions when it came time for his answers, but he pledged that Facebook (FB) would follow up later in writing.
British politician Syed Kamall, the co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, asked Zuckerberg about “the public outcry over shadow profiles,” a reference to Facebook’s practice of collecting data about non-Facebook users. He wanted Zuckerberg to expand on comments he had made during the previous U.S. congressional hearings during which he said that Facebook collects non-user data for security purposes. He asked Zuckerberg whether the only way for users to avoid having their data collected by Facebook would be to stay off the Internet entirely.
Another parliamentary member asked Zuckerberg whether he could guarantee that Facebook doesn’t use that non-user data for other services like targeted ads.
Zuckerberg avoided answering any questions related to shadow profiles until the very end of the hearing, when parliamentary members appeared upset and began shouting over each other in frustration.
“On the security side, we think it’s important to keep it to protect people in our community,” Zuckerberg said, a vague answer that implied that Facebook would continue to collect data about non-Facebook users. The executive then quickly shifted gears and said, “Were there any other themes that we wanted to get through?”
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After the hearing, several parliamentary members tweeted their frustration with Zuckerberg:
Zuckerberg largely reiterated what Facebook has already said publicly about its efforts to fix its service following the latest data privacy uproar.
And in the end, investors seemed pleased with his performance, as Facebook shares were relatively flat at end-of-day trading, slightly in-line with the overall market for tech stocks.
Daniel Ives, an analyst with GBH Insights, seemed positive about Facebook in a research note after the EU hearing. He said that the company’s stock continues to rebound after several months of investor concern that its latest scandals would impact the company’s bottom line.
“The Street has stepped away from the edge of the cliff over the last month on Facebook as the combination of stronger than expected March results, an impressive performance by Zuckerberg in DC, and the fears of regulation starting to fade in the background have been catalysts for a major rebound in shares,” Ives wrote. “While we expect more back and forth between the EU and Facebook over the coming weeks, we view today as another step forward for Zuckerberg post Cambridge.”