Zuckerberg Evades EU Grilling as Transatlantic Rift Widens

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing before the European Parliament was unsatisfactory, as the founder of the world’s largest social network was able to avoid uncomfortable questions, several members of the parliament have pointed out.

Zuckerberg’s one-hour interview took place on Tuesday. The format of the hearing allowed the Facebook CEO only a few minutes late in the session to answer questions. However, he promised to provide written responses to all questions.

“Today’s format was inadequate and ensured that Zuckerberg could avoid our questions. I trust that written responses from Facebook will be available. If these are not answered accurately, European Union (EU) authorities should be activated and improve legislation,” wrote Guy Verhofstadt, president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), on his Twitter page.

Verhofstadt expressed concern over Facebook’s attempts to suppress the spread of “fake news” over the social network, an initiative which has resulted in company employees deleting news they deem “false.”

“This admirable new world of Mr. Zuckerberg, in which tens of thousands of Facebook employees decide what is false news and what is not, frightens me. This is a public task for the public authorities,” Verhofstadt continued.

Syed Kamall, co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), said that the hearing’s audience only emphasized a lack of knowledge about “the depths that people’s data have been abused.”

“While this is another important step to draw attention to this very serious situation, unfortunately the format was a free card from prison and gave Mr. Zuckerberg plenty of room to avoid the difficult issues. When the Facebook technical staff visit the committee for freedom civil society, it must be organized to ensure that they really have to address all of our questions directly, however difficult they may be,” Kamall said in a statement.

The ECR co-chair said he was surprised by Zuckerberg’s confirmation that the social network collected data from non-Facebook users “for security reasons.”

“Some people may ask: who needs Interpol when you have Mark Zuckerberg?”, Kamall postulated.

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Members of the European Parliament had the right questions, but the format allowed Zuckerberg not to respond, said Sven Giegold, a member of the Greens / European Free Alliance Group.

“The US Congress had the correct audience format, but it only asked Zuckerberg’s soft questions. The EU Parliament had the right questions, but a flexible format that allowed Zuckerberg to avoid answering,” Giegold commented on his Twitter.

Facebook has faced widespread outrage following a scandal earlier this year when the news broke that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had garnered a large amount of social networking user data collected by a third-party application.

The world’s largest social media network acknowledged in early April that it has unduly shared with third parties the data of up to 87 million users, mostly of those in the US, but also in other countries, including around 2.7 million in the EU.

Canadian expert Christoper Wylie, who discovered the scandal, said in an interview with NBC that the number could still turn out to be even higher.

Cambridge Analytica used this data without permission from users to develop a mechanism to predict and influence voters’ behavior, a capability which would have allowed public opinion to be manipulated in the UK’s Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential elections.

The European Parliament’s frustration over Zuckerberg’s evasion of legal and ethical accountability is only the latest incident in a string of disputes which have led to deteriorating US-Europe relations.

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