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European lawmakers grill Zuckerberg on Facebook privacy

By Tony Romm | Washington Post
European lawmakers pilloried Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg Tuesday for failing to safeguard billions of web users’ personal information or stop the spread of fake news and other malicious content on its platform.
Opening a hearing with key leaders of the European Parliament, the body’s president, Antonio Tajani, described it as an “alarming scandal” that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, to access the names, “likes” and other personal information for 87 million of the site’s users.

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“The price paid by the users is in many cases data in exchange for free services,” Tajani said. “However, democracy should never become a marketing operation where anyone who buys that data buys a political advantage.”
In response, Zuckerberg apologized to European lawmakers, much as he had done during his testimony to the U.S. Congress in April. “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a mistake. And I’m sorry for it,” he said.
Other European lawmakers are expected to press Zuckerberg at the hearing to detail the data that Facebook collects about its users and the ways that information, once in the hands of Cambridge Analytica or others, might have been used to sow social unrest or influence political outcomes – including a British vote in 2016 to leave the European Union.
“I will be holding him to account today,” Syed Kamall, a conservative member of Parliament, tweeted before the hearing Tuesday. “I hope he takes this opportunity to show that Facebook is serious about protecting people’s data.”
Yet Zuckerberg’s faceoff with Parliament comes three days before the region is set to start enforcing new privacy rules, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. In effect, the law requires companies to provide more information to consumers about the data they collect and offer consumers greater ability to opt out of that collection – or face stiff penalties if they fail to meet the mark. Experts anticipate that members of the European Parliament might use the opportunity to brandish their soon-to-be new powers.
“With the Facebook hearing, the Parliament is sending a clear message that enforcement of the new European data protection law will be a top priority,” said Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has advocated for investigations into the company’s privacy practices.
Historically, the E.U. has been much tougher than the United States when it comes to policing Facebook and its Silicon Valley peers. During the past year alone, European authorities have fined Google for threatening competitors and penalized Apple for its tax practices. The E.U. issued a $122 million fine against Facebook for misleading regulators over the way it handled data after acquiring the messaging service WhatsApp.
In contrast, the United States doesn’t have an overarching, federal commercial privacy law. Twin hearings before the U.S. Congress in April, where lawmakers grilled Zuckerberg about Cambridge Analytica, received ridicule from experts who felt that policymakers weren’t well prepared.
In Brussels, the leader of the European Parliament, Tajani, initially had hoped to hold a meeting with Zuckerberg at a private gathering of the body’s Conference of Presidents, which includes the chiefs of the legislature’s political groups. But some members of Parliament revolted last week, prompting Tajani to announce Monday that it would be streamed online. Some members of the body then urged participating members of Parliament to take a tough tack with Zuckerberg.
“We don’t want a show,” tweeted Josef Weidenholzer, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, on Monday. “We need scrutiny by competent” members.”
“European Facebook users have the right to know what happened to their data,” tweeted Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party in Parliament. “I will not back down until we get plausible answers.”
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In testimony submitted early to the EU, Zuckerberg pointed out Facebook’s existing work in the region, including its corporate footprint in Ireland, where it has its European headquarters, and Paris, where its artificial intelligence lab is based. He noted that Facebook’s services are popular there, including its Safety Check tool, which allowed people in Berlin, Paris and London to inform friends and family that they were safe after terrorists targeted those cities, according to prepared testimony.

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