Mark Zuckerberg live in Brussels: five things to watch

‘Many of the values Europeans care most deeply about are values we share’

Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg has apologised to members of the European Parliament for a massive data leak, in his latest attempt to draw a line under a scandal that has rocked the world’s biggest social media network. Video: Reuters


As Mark Zuckerberg’s apology tour rolls into Brussels on Tuesday, members of the European Parliament will get to question the Facebook chief executive on everything from Cambridge Analytica and Europe’s new privacy rules to the social network’s role in elections.

Mr Zuckerberg will try to appeal to European politicians by talking about how Facebook is a force for good in the EU, from helping users find loved ones during terrorist attacks to helping small businesses find customers, as well as employing 10,000 people on the continent by the end of 2018.

“Many of the values Europeans care most deeply about are values we share: from the importance of human rights and the need for community to a love of technology, with all the potential it brings,” he will say, according to pre-released testimony.

But the politicians will have plenty of other things to ask about. Here are five:

Who was responsible for the huge data leak to Cambridge Analytica?

It has been more than two months since the first reports of a leak of up to 87m Facebook users’ personal information to the data analytics company which worked for the Trump campaign. Mr Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have answered questions in front of Congress, the UK parliament, and in the press. But it is still not clear who inside Facebook was responsible for making the decision not to inform the public when the company first discovered the leak in 2015. Facebook opted instead to secure promises from Cambridge Analytica and others that it would delete the data.

Damian Collins, the UK MP who chairs the digital, media, culture and sport committee probing the leak, has complained that Facebook has refused to answer this question and urged his colleagues in the European Parliament to pursue it.

Mark Zuckerberg live

What action has Facebook taken to make sure a similar leak never happens again?

Facebook has rushed out many restrictions on the data that can be accessed by third party app developers and made changes that allow users to opt out of some data collection, such as that which tracks them across the web. But the members of the European Parliament will be trying to figure out if these changes are significant and address the root causes of the problem. Syed Kamall, a Tory MEP and head of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said he wants to know how Facebook could investigate third party apps it suspects of abuse, or whether there are commercial limits to what it can do.

How will Facebook comply with GDPR and the ePrivacy directive?

Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance in Brussels is timely, in the week that the largest ever reform of European privacy rules comes into force. Politicians will look carefully at changes Facebook has already announced in response to the General Data Protection Regulation, examining whether it is asking users for consent in a clear enough fashion to comply with the law. They may also want answers on other areas of GDPR, such as how Facebook plans to notify regulators of data breaches within 72 hours and how Facebook will try to minimise the data it collects.

Facebook could also be affected by the ePrivacy regulation — an updated set of rules that restrict the use of cookies to track users around the web — being drafted by the EU. Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP and chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, said he wanted to ask how the ePrivacy laws would impact Facebook’s business model. Progress on approving the laws has been stuck for more than 18 months amid disagreement from EU governments. “Data-driven advertising of the type Facebook is involved in is captured more by the ePrivacy regulation than GDPR. This is what the tech companies fear the most,” said Mr Moraes.

How will Facebook fight fake news during European elections?

Politicians are also interested in how Facebook is trying to stop the spread of disinformation during elections, particularly given next year’s vote for the European Parliament. MEPs will question Mr Zuckerberg on how Facebook will deal with fake news in Europe.

“Every election now is tainted and we want to get to the heart of this,” said Mr Moraes.

Facebook has formed partnerships with fact checkers across Europe and boasted it had had better success in using artificial intelligence to tackle fake accounts and fake news in the French and German elections last year than it did in the US presidential election in 2016.

How will Facebook restrict political advertising?

The members of the European Parliament will also be interested in how Facebook’s new restrictions on political advertising, designed to unmask rogue foreign interference in elections, could impact genuine campaigns and news publishers. Facebook is asking for identification from advertisers that promote not just candidates but also political issues — a long list that features everything from “the economy” to “government reform”.

News organisations have protested that when they pay to boost political articles, they could be subject to the same rules. They do not want to have to label such stories with “paid for by”, as if they were a political party.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018