Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will meet leaders of the European Parliament as early as next week to talk about the company’s use of personal data, as the world’s biggest social network continues to deal with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal.
Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, welcomed the chief executive’s decision to meet the Conference of Presidents in Brussels. “It is a step in the right direction towards restoring confidence,” he said. “Our citizens deserve a full and detailed explanation.” He added that particular emphasis will be put on the potential impact of Facebook on elections in Europe.
The European Parliament does not have the power to demand formal testimony, such as that provided by Mr Zuckerberg to the US Congress last month. The meeting will take place behind closed doors with the leaders of the European Parliament’s main political groups, at least seven MEPs and Claude Moraes, the UK Labour MEP who chairs the Parliament’s civil liberties committee.
European officials expect Mr Zuckerberg to appear in the next two weeks.
Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal party in the European Parliament, said he would not attend the Zuckerberg meeting if it remained behind closed doors.
“It must be a public hearing including MEPs of the competent LIBE committee — why not a Facebook Live?” said Mr Verhofstadt.
Although Mr Zuckerberg’s hearing will not be public, senior company executives have been invited to attend an open and televised hearing with MEPs in June. Parliamentary officials are hopeful that Joe Kaplan, Facebook head of public policy, will attend.
Facebook also announced on Wednesday that Mr Zuckerberg will be in Paris next week to meet President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace. They are expected to discuss the president’s plans to tax large technology companies.
The announcement of the meeting in Brussels came a day after the UK parliament called again for Mr Zuckerberg to appear in person in front of the digital, media, culture and sport committee. Damian Collins, the MP who chairs the committee, said on Tuesday it was “disappointing” that Facebook chose not to answer questions with a “sufficient level of detail and transparency”.
A spokesperson for Facebook said on Wednesday: “We have accepted the Council of President’s proposal to meet 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.”
Mr Tajani also suggested that the discussion may range more widely than just privacy, as Facebook had been under pressure to do more about hate speech and disinformation being published on the platform.
“Parliament’s priority is to ensure the proper functioning of the digital market, with a high level of protection for personal data, effective rules on copyright and the protection of consumer rights,” he wrote in a statement. “Web giants must be responsible for the content they publish, including blatantly false news and illegal content.”
If the meeting takes place next week, it will occur at the same time that the European General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on May 25, after a two-year implementation period.
If the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica, the UK data analytics business that worked for Donald Trump’s election campaign, had taken place while GDPR was in force, the company and Facebook could have faced fines of up to 4 per cent of global revenue.
Additional reporting by Harriet Agnew in Paris