European lawmakers scrutinize Facebook

European lawmakers scrutinize Facebook
On May 22nd, 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with members of the European Parliament to discuss data mining and the controversy surrounding Cambridge..

On May 22nd, 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with members of the European Parliament to discuss data mining and the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica. During the meeting, Zuckerberg fielded tough question and complaints from the leaders.

Background

Data privacy is an issue of increasing concern. Governments across the world have noticed that data is being weaponised. The Russian misinformation and influence campaigns during the 2016 US Presidential elections are an example of the fact that data may be used maliciously to undermine democratic processes and institutions.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal brought the issue of data privacy into the spotlight once more. It drew global attention to the degree of control that corporations, such as Facebook, have over personal information, sparking debates on privacy and data use. Facebook is one of the largest social media corporations in the world today with an average of 2 billion monthly users. It collects and stores several kinds of personal information from its users, education, employment, religion and political views, location history, and mobile phone numbers. Cambridge Analytica, a data mining organisation and political consultancy, received the personal information of approximately 87 million Facebook users through a third-party app. Cambridge Analytica has reportedly been involved in influence campaigns and hundreds of political campaigns across the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted that Facebook collects information even on those who are not registered users. Facebook has faced litigation in European courts due to this issue and is currently under investigation by the FTC.

Analysis

The meeting took place over a span of 90 minutes. Zuckerberg spent around 30 minutes giving answers to the questions presented by 12 MEPs. However, the meeting ended amid complaints that Zuckerberg had been allowed to evade important questions. He has also been accused of giving vague answers to the European Parliament.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted, Zuckerberg has apologized for Facebook’s role multiple times. He reiterated his apology once again before the European Parliament. He admitted that the company had not done enough to ensure the privacy and the security of its users. "We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility and that was a mistake and I'm sorry for it", he said. "Keeping people safe will always be more important than maximising our profits," he added.

European Parliament's President Antonio Tajani noted that the point of this meeting was to ensure this does not occur again especially since EU elections are coming up soon. The majority of the questions were quite specific, such as, “Will Facebook allow all users to completely opt-out of targeted advertising?” However, the format allowed Zuckerberg from side-stepping many of the questions. He was asked all the questions first and then given 30 minutes to answer – instead of being allowed to answer questions that were being posed in real time.

Zuckerberg promised that his firm would follow up with written answers: “I realise there were a lot of specific questions that I didn’t get around to answer,” he said as he noted the session had run out of time. He also repeated assurances that he had put forth to the Washington last month. The Facebook chief also said that internet regulation was "important and inevitable" but the key was to find a way to regulate without restraints on innovation.

He also admitted, “In 2016 we were too slow to identify Russian interference in the US presidential election. We weren’t prepared enough for the kind of coordinated misinformation operations we are now aware of.”

Meanwhile, European commissioner on justice and consumer affairs Vera Jourová noted, “As of Friday new strong EU data protection rules will be in place. These rules will have teeth and protect Europeans. They come just in time.”

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation will come into effect on May 25th this year. The regulation will ensure greater data security for EU citizens and will hold firms accountable for the protection of personal data. Facebook, in an attempt to limit potential liability, has ensured that less than 25% of its users will be covered by this legislation. However, analysts have noted that GDPR may soon affect firms across the globe.

Assessment

Our assessment is that it has become clearer how technology companies have begun weaponizing personal data of millions across the world. Due to the scandal, Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that he was willing to consider having the social channel monitored. Data breaches have become a massive threat to humanity in the 21st century and it is imperative for governments to address the crisis.

Read more: Lawsuit claims Facebook “weaponises” data

Facebook leak hits 87 million

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