Who says privacy is dead? Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to take European parliamentarians’ questions about how his platform impacts the privacy of hundreds of millions of European citizens — but only behind closed doors. Where no one except a handful of carefully chosen MEPs will bear witness to what’s said.
The private meeting will take place on May 22 at 17.45CET in Brussels. After which the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, will hold a press conference to furnish the media with his version of events.
It’s just a shame that journalists are being blocked from being able to report on what actually goes on in the room.
And that members of the public won’t be able to form their own opinions about how Facebook’s founder responds to pressing questions about what Zuckerberg’s platform is doing to their privacy and their fundamental rights.
Because the doors are being closed to journalists and citizens.
Even the intended contents of the meeting has been glossed over in public — with the purpose of the chat being vaguely couched as “to clarify issues related to the use of personal data” in a statement by Tajani (below).
The impact of Facebook’s platform on “electoral processes in Europe” is the only discussion point that’s specifically flagged.
Given Zuckerberg has thrice denied requests from UK lawmakers to take questions about his platform in a public hearing we can only assume the company made the CEO’s appearance in front of EU parliamentarians conditional on the meeting being closed.
Zuckerberg did agree to public sessions with US lawmakers last month, following a major global privacy scandal related to user data and political ad targeting.
But evidently the company’s sense of accountability doesn’t travel very far. (Despite a set of ‘privacy principles’ that Facebook published with great fanfare at the start of the year — one of which reads: ‘We are accountable’. Albeit Facebook didn’t specify to who or what exactly Facebook feels accountable.)
We’ve reached out to Facebook to ask why Zuckerberg will not take European parliamentarians questions in a public hearing. And indeed whether Mark can find the time to hop on a train to London afterwards to testify before the DCMS committee’s enquiry into online disinformation — and will update this story with any response.
Update: A Facebook spokesman has now reiterated the company’s prior statement — in which it declined the DCMS committee’s request, saying “Mark Zuckerberg has no plans to meet with the Committee or travel to the UK at the present time”. “In terms of your first question, I’ll look into it and let you know if we have anything further to share,” he added on the closed door question.
As Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for justice and consumers, put it in a tweet, it’s a pity the Facebook founder does not believe all Europeans deserve to know how their data is handled by his company. Just a select few, holding positions of elected office.
A pity or, well, a shame.
Safe to say, not all MEPs are happy with the arrangement…
And according to an EU parliament source, around half the groups wanted an open hearing with the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs — with only a small majority of the Conference of Presidents agreeing to a closed meeting.
But let’s at least be thankful that Zuckerberg has shown us, once again, how very much privacy matters — to him personally…
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