- Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
- Facebook will face a double grilling from European lawmakers starting Tuesday over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, its role in election interference, and its attitude to new privacy laws.
- CEO Mark Zuckerberg will meet politicians in a livestreamed session on Tuesday, while Sheryl Sandberg could be quizzed by the European Union’s civil liberties committee.
- Zuckerberg is expected to apologize for Facebook’s failure to take more responsibility for people’s personal data, according to prepared remarks seen by The New York Times.
- The civil liberties committee’s chair, Claude Moraes, fought for Zuckerberg’s meeting to be streamed and told Business Insider that politicians were unafraid to ask tough questions.
- Moraes, a British member of the European Parliament, said the UK Parliament had been too “aggressive” toward Zuckerberg and that was probably why he had refused to appear before British politicians.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to apologize to European lawmakers Tuesday during a meeting where politicians will have the opportunity to grill him about the firm’s mishandling of user data.
He is expected to be flanked by another executive who will be quizzed in a second public meeting by the European Union’s civil liberties committee.
Zuckerberg will appear on Tuesday evening before the Conference of Presidents, which is made up of the European Parliament’s political group leaders and the European president.
He’ll be asked about the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Facebook’s role in election interference, and its attitude to new European privacy laws. The event will be livestreamed through the European Parliament’s website at 6:15 p.m. CEST (12:15 p.m. ET), according to a spokesman.
According to prepared remarks seen by The New York Times, Zuckerberg will apologize for Facebook’s role in allowing the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to improperly obtain information from as many as 87 million Facebook users.
“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,” he is expected to say. “That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”
It would be Zuckerberg’s second time apologizing to lawmakers after he appeared before the US Congress and Senate last month.
He is also expected to say Facebook is committed to Europe, citing the company’s European headquarters in Ireland and its engineering hub in London.
“We have accepted the Conference of President’s proposal to meet with leaders of the European Parliament and appreciate the opportunity for dialogue, to listen to their views and show the steps we are taking to better protect people’s privacy,” a Facebook representative said.
Lawmakers to ask tough questions
There has been some controversy around the fact that Zuckerberg did not originally plan to testify in public.
Claude Moraes, a British member of the European Parliament who is chair of the civil liberties committee, will be present in the meeting and is among the lawmakers who successfully campaigned for the closed hearing to be streamed.
He said it wasn’t clear why the Conference of Presidents decided to hold the meeting privately. The European Parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, had defended the decision and fought back at critics but U-turned on Monday.
Moraes said his committee would be grilling another Facebook executive, possibly the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in a public follow-up meeting after Zuckerberg’s hearing. That session will focus more closely on Europe’s ePrivacy law. The civil liberties committee will also try to understand why the US has yet to establish stronger privacy standards as well as to learn bigger tech companies’ attitudes to privacy and regulation.
Moraes said politicians would not be afraid to ask Zuckerberg tough questions on Tuesday.
“The Cambridge Analytica case, we will have to go more in-depth with that, that will definitely happen on Tuesday,” he told Business Insider on Friday. “That speaks to a second [major issue], which is Facebook’s impact on elections. Nobody is going to be afraid about asking questions about indiscriminate data gathering, the processing it for algorithmic targeting, or political manipulation. That will be upfront.
“The European Parliament is quite strong on this because we have lots of countries with lots of elections, there are lots of concerns about political interference.”
In the UK, British politicians fear that foreign actors may have used Facebook to interfere in 2016’s Brexit referendum. Moraes said in addition to Brexit, there were “lots of areas of sensitivity.”
He added that Zuckerberg could expect to be grilled about the General Data Protection Regulation, a new data-privacy law that comes into effect on Friday.
It was “significant,” Moraes added, when US senators were grilling Zuckerberg about election interference in April and brought up GDPR. There is no US equivalent of the law.
“We’re quite interested in how Facebook and how other big platforms interact with GDPR in the European continent,” he said. “But also a big issue for us is how poor the data-protection standards are in the US.”
The UK made a mistake threatening to arrest Zuckerberg
It’s a coup for the European Parliament that Zuckerberg is appearing at all.
British lawmakers are conducting a wide-ranging investigation into fake news, and they have particularly focused on Facebook in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and US election interference.
But they have failed, on multiple occasions, to compel Zuckerberg to appear in person to give evidence. The most senior Facebook executive to appear to date is the company’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer.
Most recently, politicians issued a formal summons to Zuckerberg, but they can’t do much to enforce it.
Moraes said the UK had been too “aggressive.”
“The approach of the Commons has somewhat missed the mark, for example by threatening him,” Moraes said. “[Politicians] should really have pushed on Cambridge Analytica to get more from Facebook. Even if they didn’t get Zuckerberg himself, they should have had more input from senior executives.”
Moraes said Zuckerberg most likely agreed to appear in Europe because the EU as a bloc has considerably more regulatory power than the UK alone. The company has 370 million users in Europe, more than in the US and Canada combined, and privacy regulation created in Europe has serious financial implications.
“Our approach was saying, ‘We have the regulatory power and we have [many] of the users for this company,'” Moraes said. “‘You need to come for this reason.’ That’s all we said.”