For a moment, Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before members of the European Parliament looked like it was going to be a very bad day for the Facebook CEO. Then he started answering questions, a flood of pablum spewed from his mouth, and everyone got angry.
In the lead up to Zuckerberg’s first appearance before politicians in Europe since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, it was widely expected he’d face much tougher questions than he did in front of the US Congress. Not only are Europeans generally more protective of privacy and more open to breaking up monopolies, but the EU is implementing its long-awaited GDPR privacy protections at the end of the week. Here we have governmental authorities actually imposing regulations rather than just talking about it, and there are numerous indications that Facebook is already worming its way around them.
Indeed, the leaders of European Parliament’s political groups had some hard-hitting questions for Zuckerberg. Some even followed up on questions raised by the Senate that have remained unanswered since April. Most questioners seemed to have a better grasp of the issues at hand than the majority of Congress. And the majority of the questions were quite specific, such as, “Will Facebook allow all users to completely opt-out of targeted advertising?” But the format that was chosen completely screwed up any chance of getting a straight answer from Zuckerberg.
Rather than giving each Member of Parliament time to ask a question, get an answer, and followup, everyone asked their questions in the beginning. Each member threw out around six questions and Zuckerberg was given the chance to respond to the dozens of inquiries all at once. At first, this seemed to be getting under the CEOs skin. A huge number of issues were raised in rapid-fire succession and I wondered how he’d possibly address each concern. In the end, he didn’t.
You can find some form of every Zuckerberg answer in his prepared remarks that were released before the hearing, and read out loud by him as the proceedings began. The 34-year-old exec has had months to sharpen his skills in delivering canned answers and he did on Tuesday; he did it without breaking a sweat. Rather than respond to individual questions, he looked at his notes and grouped them into themes. You’ve heard every reply before. They all boiled down to “Facebook needs to do better, and we are!”
The session went over its allotted time and Zuckerberg announced that he would wrap up. He lamented that “there were a lot of specific questions that I didn’t get to specifically answer,” but he was pleased that he “was able to address the high-level areas” of everyone’s concerns. This didn’t sit well in the room.
Various members began pointing out which questions went unanswered. Belgium’s Philippe Lamberts angrily pointed out that he phrased all six of his questions for yes or no answers and received no response. Lamberts laid it out plainly, “of course, you asked for this format for a reason.” It was unclear whose idea this odd format was before Lamberts scolded Zuckerberg.
The most intense moment came right as Zuckerberg was wrapping up. Britain’s Syed Kamall reminded the CEO that he hadn’t addressed concerns about the “shadow profiles” Facebook builds around non-users data. Here’s Mark’s face:
Zuckerberg tried to explain that Facebook has announced a clear history tool that will let users wipe all basic browsing history data. He explained that the company keeps tabs on non-users to make sure they aren’t scraping data and to monitor “how people use our service.” Kamall interrupted to ask how a non-Facebook user can stop their data from being transferred to Facebook’s system. “On the security side, we think it’s important to keep it to protect people in our community,” Zuckerberg responded curtly before turning to his counsel and changing the subject.
In the end, no one seemed satisfied today but there was the appearance of a promise to follow-up on questions in writing. That promise came from Zuckerberg’s lawyer. The questions that went unanswered at his two sessions in Congress still linger, but we know that’s in part because Republican lawmakers haven’t followed up. Something tells me the Members of Parliament will.
Below, you’ll find every question that Mark Zuckerberg was asked and failed to answer with specifics. We’ve paraphrased many of them for the sake of clarity.