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EU lawmakers raked Mark Zuckerberg over the coals — but, as usual, it didn’t matter

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Mark Zuckerberg is back on his bullshit. 

The Facebook CEO appeared before Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Tuesday to discuss data protection in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The questions of European lawmakers were, in terms of specificity and sophistication, lightyears ahead of most of their American counterparts. 

But because of an odd format — in which MEPs asked Zuckerberg all of the questions at the beginning, then let him answer everything at the end — Zuckerberg was able to speak mainly in what are now highly recognizable talking points. His answers often skirted specific details, and in some cases, there appeared to be topics Zuckerberg wanted to avoid answering questions about altogether. 

And, of course, the whole affair ended with even more promises to “follow up” with answers.

As with the US congressional hearings, the scope of questioning in the EU ranged far beyond the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In addition to data privacy, MEPs asked about GDPR compliance, online bullying, hate speech, fake news, electioneering, regulation, Facebook’s possible status as a monopoly, and more. 

“You’ve come here — not to congress — but to the European Union,” one MEP said. “And we have expectations.”

In addition to the breadth of their questioning, the MEPs drilled down into many of the most troubling aspects of almost every topic. 

With Cambridge Analytica, they wanted to know why Facebook didn’t notify its users of the breach in 2015, and how it can be sure that similar abuse won’t happen again. The latter question is crucial, considering that so much user data — collected by 200 now-suspended apps — may already be out there. To this, in his bulk answer, Zuckerberg pointed to future election integrity efforts, app auditing, and to Facebook’s new “clear history” tool.

For GDPR compliance, lawmakers wanted to know how Facebook could possibly adopt GDPR standards, when it has specifically taken steps to limit the scope of GDPR for non-EU citizens. Zuckerberg did not address that discrepancy specifically. Instead, he simply stated that Facebook plans to comply with GDPR, and to make those settings available to everyone around the world.

Another big issue was the business of Facebook, and whether it qualifies as a monopoly.

“It’s time to consider breaking the Facebook monopoly, because it’s already too much power in only one hand,” one MEP said. “Can you convince me not to do so?”

Zuckerberg addressed the question of “competition” in his remarks, saying that Facebook has to constantly compete to stay relevant. But that answer conflates the question of “monopoly” with general competition — which are two different beasts, as MEP Guy Verhofstadt helpfully pointed out with an analogy about transportation options.

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Some other tough, important questions that MEPs asked about were how to opt out of targeted advertising altogether, whether people would be compensated for having their data breached, whether Facebook would share more information about its role in Brexit, whether there may be a bigger security problem on Facebook than other apps, what the company does with the data it says it keeps for “security purposes,” and, notably, on “shadow profiles.”  Zuckerberg did not directly answer these questions. 

As Zuckerberg moved to wrap up his time, MEPs attempted to keep him talking with direct questions about shadow profiles and advertising opt-outs, which led to a lot of deer-in-the-headlight looks from Zuck. But the president of the European Parliament ended the hearing, and, over the disgusted harumphs of several MEPs, Zuckerberg promised to follow up on more specific questions in writing. 

And, with some selfies.

But first, lemme take a selfie.

But first, lemme take a selfie.

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