The Facebook CEO issued broad talking points instead of specific answers, and regulators weren’t happy.
For an hour on Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced some tough questions from Europe’s political leaders. They have concerns about his company’s data policies, its role in elections worldwide and whether the mammoth social network should be considered a monopoly and broken up.
The hearing was more aggressive, and some of the questions more pointed, than the queries Zuckerberg faced from U.S. politicians last month.
“You have to ask yourself how you will be remembered,” said Guy Verhofstadt, one of the regulators from Belgium. “As one of the three big internet giants together with Steve jobs and Bill Gates, who have enriched our worlds and our societies? Or on the other hand, the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies?”
We didn’t hear Zuckerberg’s answer to that question, or to any question, really. That’s because the meeting’s format — in which Zuckerberg took questions from European regulators nonstop for almost an hour, then tried to answer them in about 20 minutes — allowed Zuckerberg to summarize the questions into categories he could then answer with prepared talking points.
One of the regulators could be heard on video claiming Facebook requested the format, but in a post-meeting press conference, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said the arrangement was his proposal. Tajani would still like to hold a more formal hearing with someone from Facebook down the line.
Watch the full meeting below.
The result left Europe’s regulators with little additional insight beyond what we’d already learned from Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony.
The questions from European Parliament were mostly thoughtful and probing — a perfect follow-up to Zuckerberg’s trip to Washington, D.C. We just didn’t get new answers. For example, we never heard a direct answer to the question, “Do you consider your company a monopoly?”
Instead we got this, almost 40 minutes later:
“There were a couple of questions around competition and how we view our role and our position as a platform here. … We exist in a very competitive space where people use a lot of different tools for communication. The average person uses about eight different tools for communication. … So from where I sit it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day. There are competitors that reach tens and hundreds of millions of people. And we are constantly needing to evolve our service in order to stay relevant and serve people well. So that feels like it’s a competitive environment where there are many choices that people have.”
When asked about “shadow profiles,” a term used to describe the information Facebook collects about people who don’t actually have Facebook accounts, Zuckerberg didn’t say anything new, even though that was one of the lingering topics of interest following the U.S. hearings. Remarkably, Zuckerberg never addressed the “shadow profile” question during his 20 minutes of replies. After someone reminded him of the question, Zuckerberg replied that Facebook stores that data to “protect people in our community.” He then quickly changed tack by asking, “Were there any other themes that we want to get through?”
Regulators weren’t pleased with his answers. After Zuckerberg attempted to end the meeting, citing how they had stayed past the designated time, numerous members of the EU Parliament pushed back.
“I asked you six yes and no questions and I got not a single answer,” said one of the regulators, who couldn’t be identified as he was off camera. “And of course, you asked for this format for a reason.” (Again, Tajani said later that it was his idea.)
Verhofstadt pushed Zuckerberg for written responses to all questions asked. “There are a number of questions put [forward] by other colleagues that I want an answer to,” he said. “On competition, for example, the European antitrust thing. That is important. I think we’re going to push our European Antitrust agency to go into this if there is not a good answer.”
When Tajani tried to calm his colleagues, he asked Zuckerberg whether or not he would answer all of the specific questions he’d been asked in writing in the next few days. Facebook VP of Global Policy Joel Kaplan chimed in: “The questions that weren’t answered today,” he said.
It could be a long list.
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