3 Reasons Why Mark Zuckerberg’s EU Grilling Today Will Be Tougher Than His Congressional Interrogation
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will appear before the European Parliament this afternoon—12:20 ET in the U.S.—to apologize for his company’s data protection and fake news failings.
Brussels is the latest stop on Zuck’s post-Cambridge Analytica apology tour, which has so far seen him perform before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. His appearance before the European Parliament was originally supposed to take place behind closed doors, but public pressure ensured it will be livestreamed.
Zuckerberg can expect a rough time, for a few reasons.
Facebook is huge and American
Most European politicians do not reflexively dislike American companies, but Facebook (FB) is enormous and unavoidable. It also has a history of trying to avoid oversight in Europe—even now, witness Zuckerberg’s refusal to testify before the parliament in the U.K., which is still part of the EU.
Unlike the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, the European Parliament is not overly concerned with diplomatic niceties. Indeed, with elections looming next year, members may be keen to score domestic points by attacking a foreign company that is already regularly pilloried in the media and by national politicians. The fact that the grilling is the subject of intense international attention probably doesn’t hurt on the profile front either.
While American politicians lined up to praise Zuckerberg for exemplifying the American dream, he’s in for no such love on the other side of the Atlantic.
Facebook has a bad track record in Europe
Facebook has been fined many, many times in Europe for flouting EU laws. Last year it was hit with a $122 million antitrust fine for giving regulators misleading information at the time of its WhatsApp takeover, but it’s usually fined over data protection violations.
The Cambridge Analytica affair is, let us not forget, first and foremost a data protection issue.
Then there are the problems with “fake news” and hate speech, which have led to a strict German law popularly known as the “Facebook law”—properly known as the NetzDG, it orders social networks to remove hate speech postings at high speed—and which have led to threats of EU-wide regulation.
Facebook has broadly been complying with regulators’ and politicians’ demands on this front, but not as quickly as some might like.
European regulation is way more advanced
Spectators of Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony got to see moments of weirdness such as Senator Orrin Hatch not understanding that Facebook makes its money from advertising. They can expect no such confusion from the Brussels crowd.
Not only has the EU had data protection laws for more than two decades now—something that the U.S. has taken a pass on, at least at the federal level—but its shiny new update to those laws, the super-strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR,) is coming into effect this coming Friday. And the new regulation will allow for much higher fines than were possible in all those previous instances of Facebook crackdowns.
Being the people who were largely responsible for the GDPR, the members of the European Parliament are intimately aware of the issues at play here. They know exactly how Facebook operates, they don’t like how it exploits people’s data, and they have a new weapon to show off. If they can demonstrate the superiority of EU law over the U.S.’s light-touch regime, all the better.
Zuckerberg is only scheduled to appear before the parliament for an hour, and there will be plenty of historical stuff to wade through, but it would not be at all surprising to see some parliamentarians challenge him over Facebook’s plans to comply with the GDPR.