Mark Zuckerberg’s regret for the commission of the European Parliament tonight has largely gone according to the already well-known script. The text that came out was followed neatly and so there is little to say about it. The highlight of the evening was the question round, in which Zuckerberg did not get it easy. The various parliamentarians had a lot of relevant questions for Zuckerberg, if they were not all equally realistic. Unfortunately there were too many questions, there was too much around it and there was so little time left for Zuckerberg to answer the questions. Not that he intended, by the way.
There is (they think) no iceberg
An important and frequently recurring question was whether Zuckerberg could guarantee that a subsequent scandal as in [Cambridge1994] would not occur within a few months, and why Facebook has chosen not to draw all users to the data breach. Cambridge Analytica is not the tip of the iceberg, says Zuckerberg, since the changes to Facebook’s platform in 2014 make that impossible. The survey from Facebook to those apps is ongoing and according to Zuckerberg that will take a long time and there will probably be found apps that might have had access, but it is part of the proactive approach that Facebook has now is going to implement.
There was also a straightforward question about whether Zuckerberg could give a reason not to break up Facebook, since they have a monopoly on the social media market. That did not work well with the CEO. Facebook operates in a competitive market for communication, he said, in which people use up to eight platforms to communicate with each other. So it was competition. After which Zuck once again told the story that there are so many SMEs that have benefited Facebook. Another two minutes wasted.
Of course, the GDPR also came along and was asked if Facebook would be able to fully comply. According to Zuckerberg, Facebook will also comply with regulations from 25 May. He also noted that many users in the test phase of the GDPR-questions found it annoying to have to go through the ‘flow’ of the questions about their data before they could see what their friends were doing goods. This flow has been active for a while, but from the 25th it is mandatory for everyone who has not done it to answer the GDPR questions before they can continue.
Shadow accounts were also a hot topic in the question round. What happens to the data that Facebook obtains from users who are not on Facebook? Is it sold? Can Internet users ensure that this does not happen or at least understand what is being collected about them? And what about the data that Facebook gathers for security purposes? It was added that this is against the existing internet regulation and that the GDPR also provides for compensation for such violations. Like many other specific questions, it was not answered. It was only when it became clear that Zuckerberg was planning to go on without answering any of the specific questions from the parliamentarians was there a need for an answer. Zuckerberg tried to give a non-answer, but in fact it meant that Facebook keeps collecting data (“as part of the security measures”) and that they do not intend to share that data.
Right-wing regulation and transparency
The idea of regulation also came up from different sides. Regulation is important and inevitable, Zuckerberg said himself, but the question for him is what regulation should be. According to him, regulation must be flexible enough not to nip new techniques in the bud, which is damned much like a euphemism for “do not do too much”. Transparency is also urgently needed, according to the committee. So Facebook was asked to give openness about the business operations, profit and of course the taxes paid or not paid within Europe. Facebook simply pays all the taxes in Europe that they have to pay, Zuckerberg replied. All other factors in the transparency discussion were skilfully ignored, including the not insignificant question of whether European customers could expect that no data would be exchanged between Facebook and WhatsApp (and Instagram).
On the right side, there were some pressing questions about Facebook’s neutrality. Right-wing accounts have lost followers, some have even been closed down while they were not fake, and that makes Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook is a platform for all ideas is questionable. Zuckerberg firmly opposed the idea that there would be fiddling with the number of followers or the visibility of certain people, groups or pages because of a political conviction. As long as you continue to operate within the rules, it is your turn, he said, although he also repeated that a whole number of pages receive fewer views because of the change of the algorithm.
Time wasted with Facebook
The big question everyone came back to was this one: who is actually behind the knots? Does Zuckerberg have his own creation under control? Does anyone actually control it? It is one of the questions that have not been answered at all by Zuckerberg. Is that coincidence? Almost impossible, because nothing that came out of Zuckerberg’s mouth tonight seemed to have been rehearsed to the sadness. Maybe this question was not on the list.
Speaking of lists: since there was little specific to what Zuckerberg wanted to answer in this public setting, the MEPs seemed to revolt. Zuckerberg promised that he would go into it at a later date, when asked from the other side of the table for specific answers to the specific questions that had been asked. Zuckerberg murmured and nodded ‘yes’ when the idea of a point-by-point written answer was put forward by the chairman to bring the session to an end. The probability that this will actually happen is very small, so for the time being this was possibly an even tandelzere affair than the sorry say in the American Senate. The members of parliament who were allowed to ask questions, but especially Zuckerberg, have wasted everyone’s time with this repetition exercise.