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EU Parliament Asks Zuckerberg If He Created A ‘Digital Monster’

Today, the EU Parliament grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the company's track record with data privacy, and asked him whether or not he believes the “digital monster” he created should be regulated. Facebook had initially tried to make the hearing private, but some MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) threatened not to attend unless it was public.

MEPs No Longer Trust Facebook

Some of the MEPs made it known that they’ve been paying attention to what Facebook and Zuckerberg have been doing and saying over the past few years and making a note of Zuckerberg’s repetitive apologies over the past decade.

The MEPs seemed to expect Zuckerberg to answer most of the questions in the same way he did in the U.S. Congressional hearings, which is exactly what he did for the most part. However, the MEPs also warned Zuckerberg that they no longer trust Facebook to “self-regulate.”

The MEPs also wondered whether or not Zuckerberg or anyone inside Facebook could even fix the company’s many issues, which range from data leaks to fake news, election manipulation, hate speech, and so on.

Facebook Violated EU Laws

Guy Verhofstadt noted that Facebook has already violated the existing Data Protection Directive by transferring what, until recently, was “European data” to its headquarters in the United States.

Facebook recently stopped processing the data of 1.5 billion international users (except EU citizens) through the Facebook Ireland headquarters. The company now processes every non-EU citizen's data in the United States. However, the data of all of those foreigners were “European data,” according to Verhofstadt, and Facebook shouldn’t have been allowed to transfer it. Verhofstadt was one of the MEPs that threatened not to attend if the hearing was restricted from public view.

Max Schrems, the Austrian who sued Facebook and brought the invalidation of the Safe Harbor agreement, also noted recently on Twitter that Facebook blocked his account because he didn’t “consent” to the company’s new privacy policy, a practice that should be illegal under the GDPR.

We also know that Facebook is still being investigated in multiple countries over previous EU privacy law violations.

Zuckerberg’s ‘Digital Monster’

Verhofstadt asked Zuckerberg if he wants to be remembered like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, who have enriched our world, or as a “genius that created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies.”

Nikolas Bay, another MEP, brought attention to the issue of Facebook closing down users’ accounts when it doesn’t agree with the company’s views, noting how absurd it would be for a telephone company to do the same to its own customers

Bay added that Facebook is privatizing our public liberties beyond any jurisdictional or parliamentary control. He added that Facebook has the kind of sovereignty that competes with nation states.

Time To Break Up Facebook’s Monopoly?

One of the MEPs, Manfred Weber, recalled that earlier this year Zuckerberg dodged a U.S. Senator's question on how many direct competitors Facebook has. Weber then wondered if it’s time to break Facebook’s monopoly because it has too much power. This idea was recently echoed by multiple American consumer advocacy groups, calling for WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram to be separated into different companies.

Verhofstadt also suggested that Facebook should open its books so that the antitrust regulators can verify whether or not the company is a monopoly.

Zuckerberg didn’t make significant new revelations with his answers, and the hearing ended before he could answer all the questions. However, he promised to respond to the MEPs’ additional questions in writing over the next few days.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.