Zuckerberg apologises to EU lawmakers

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised to European Union lawmakers for a massive data leak.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani (left) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels on Tuesday.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani (left) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Brussels on Tuesday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • Fresh from saying "sorry" to European lawmakers, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was due to hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday, when he will face renewed pressure over his company's tax policies.

Mr Zuckerberg apologised to the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday for the "harm" caused by a huge breach of users' data and by a failure to crack down on fake news.

And in a sign of the increasingly hostile environment for the social media giant in Europe, he is likely to face another grilling in France, which has led European Union efforts to force US tech giants to pay more tax.

Facebook, along with Google, Apple and Amazon, are in the sights of Mr Macron and other EU leaders over their use of low-tax countries such as Ireland to reduce their corporate tax rate to nominal levels.

Mr Macron "is looking to start a dialogue" with tech bosses "to have discussions that will sometimes be frank and direct, to talk about regulation and international governance", an aide said.

Mr Zuckerberg has been invited along with around 60 other tech bosses, including Microsoft's Mr Satya Nadella, Uber's Mr Dara Khosrowshahi, IBM's Ms Ginni Rometty, SAP's Mr Bill McDermott and Mr Jimmy Wales from Wikimedia.

Besides tackling taxes and the battle against fake news, Mr Macron will be keen to stress his pro-business credentials at the Tech for Good summit.

Speaking in front of European lawmakers on Tuesday, Mr Zuckerberg faced often hostile questions, with Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt asking if he wanted to be remembered as a "genius who created a digital monster".

Mr Zuckerberg said while Facebook has brought in new features to connect people, it had become clear that it has not "done enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm".

"And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people's information. We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility," he said in his opening statement.

"That was a mistake, and I'm sorry for it."

Mr Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right EPP group, and Mr Verhofstadt raised a potentially chilling point for Mr Zuckerberg. "Is it time to break Facebook's monopoly because there's already too much power in one company's hands?" Mr Weber asked. "Can you convince me not to?"

Mr Zuckerberg did not rise to the bait, but instead said the company faces stiff competition. "We exist in a very competitive space. The average person uses about eight different tools for communication - it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day."

Mr Verhofstadt said Mr Zuckerberg now faces a volley of written questions from members left feeling short-changed. "He hasn't responded to the questions and to do that there will be a list of written questions. I think that was the only way because with a written procedure, he cannot escape."

Mr Philippe Lamberts, co-president of Parliament's Green group, complained that he got "not a single answer" to his list of questions.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Zuckerberg apologises to EU lawmakers'. Print Edition | Subscribe