Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will face European lawmakers in a behind-closed-doors meeting next week — but he will also be flanked by another executive who is set to be grilled in public.
Zuckerberg will be quizzed on Tuesday next week by 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.
There has been some controversy around the fact that Zuckerberg will not testify in public, but Business Insider has been told that a second executive, most likely COO Sheryl Sandberg, will face the cameras in Brussels.
Sandberg, or another senior alternative, will be questioned by the Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) in a session that will be live streamed and focus more closely on Europe’s ePrivacy law. LIBE will also try to understand why the US has yet to establish stronger privacy standards, and bigger tech companies’ attitudes to privacy and regulation.
Claude Moraes, a British MEP and chair of LIBE, will be present in both meetings and told us that politicians will be unafraid 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. „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 interference in 2016’s Brexit referendum. But, according to Moraes: „It’s not just about Brexit, there are lots of areas of sensitivity.”
He added that Zuckerberg can expect to be grilled about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a new data privacy law which comes into effect on May 25.
It was „significant,” Moraes added, when US senators were grilling Mark 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.”
There’s an internal struggle about whether Zuckerberg’s hearing should be held in public
Moraes said his political group, the Social Democrats, and others including the Liberals and the Greens, are fighting to make Tuesday’s meeting with Mark Zuckerberg public.
He said it wasn’t clear why the Conference of Presidents decided to hold the meeting privately. Parliament President Antonio Tajani has defended the decision and fought back at critics, saying it wasn’t their role to control the European Parliament.
„We are trying to get the whole thing streamed on Facebook,” said Moraes. „I’m optimistic that will happen.”
A Facebook spokesperson said: „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.”
The UK made a mistake threatening to arrest Mark Zuckerberg
It’s a coup for the European Parliament that Zuckerberg is appearing at all.
British lawmakers are currently conducting a wide-ranging investigation into fake news, and 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 CTO Mike Schroepfer.
Most recently, politicians issued a formal summons to Zuckerberg, but 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,” said Moraes. „[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 it was likely Zuckerberg agreed to appear in Europe was because the EU as a bloc has considerably more regulatory power. 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.”