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#ZuckerBowl a draw as US hearings end

But EU monitors ratchet up pressure on Facebook over privacy violations

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens during a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg took personal responsibility Tuesday for the leak of data on tens of millions of its users, while warning of an "arms race" against Russian disinformation during a high stakes face-to-face with US lawmakers. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens during a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg took personal responsibility Tuesday for the leak of data on tens of millions of its users, while warning of an "arms race" against Russian disinformation during a high stakes face-to-face with US lawmakers. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
Image: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

European Union privacy watchdogs will look deeper into the harvesting of personal data from social networks for economic or political purposes following the scandal engulfing Facebook after data from nearly 87 million users was improperly accessed.

“A multibillion-dollar social media platform saying it is sorry simply is not enough,” Andrea Jelinek, chair of the group of EU data protection authorities, said in a statement yesterday.

The world’s largest social network has been rattled by the revelation that the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users ended up in the hands of British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica – which had US President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.

However, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg emerged largely unscathed from two days of high-stakes hearings this week that saw US lawmakers grill the billionaire over how the online giant feeds users’ data to advertisers and chide him over privacy rights.

Jelinek said after a two-day meeting of European regulators: “What we are seeing today is most likely only one instance of the much wider spread practice of harvesting personal data from social media for economic or political reasons.”

The group must formulate a longterm strategy, the statement read, although it did not include any details.

Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is leading the European probe into the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

A landmark data privacy law will enter into force in the EU on May 25, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted.

Under the new law, companies will need the explicit consent of users before using their data and they will have to be more specific about how they use it. Companies that break the law could face fines of up to 4% of their annual global turnover.
In the US, the marathon 10 hours of questioning of Zuckerberg was one of the biggest spectacles in Congress in recent memory, followed blow by blow on social media under the hashtags #ZuckerBowl and #ZuckUnderOath.

The 33-year-old chief executive conceded that some regulation of social media companies was inevitable, while offering a laundry list of reform pledges at Facebook and vowing to improve privacy and security.

But he stiffly defended Facebook’s business model -- specifically the way it uses data and postings from the 2.2 billion users of its free platform – calling it necessary to attract ad revenue the company depends on.

In the wake of the massive leak of user information to Cambridge Analytica, Zuckerberg reiterated that the company had shut down the pipeline that allowed data – including his own -- to slip without consent into the hands of third parties.

A day earlier Zuckerberg took personal responsibility for the data breach. Yet in his testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was also steadfast in arguing that Facebook’s users themselves are choosing to make their data available, and that the company’s “opt-in” provisions offered them sufficient control.

“Every time that a person chooses to share something on Facebook, they’re proactively going to the service and choosing that they want to share a photo, write a message to someone.”

Zuckerberg faced tougher questions from House lawmakers over Facebook’s stance than during Tuesday’s five-hour session in the Senate.

“It strikes me that there’s a real trust gap here. Why should we trust you?” Democratic Representative Mike Doyle asked.

“The only way we’re going to close this trust gap is through legislation that creates and empowers a sufficiently resourced expert oversight agency, with rulemaking authority to protect the digital privacy and ensure that companies protect our users’ data.”

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