Věra Jourová

Facebook has lost 'a lot of trust,' EU official warns

EU Justice Commissioner Jourova holds a news conference in Brussels
She decided to #DeleteFacebook two years ago. Source: Reuters

Lawmakers in Washington, DC, grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for five hours on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he faced round two of questioning, testifying about Facebook’s data and privacy policies, how it will handle future elections and whether the social media giant should be regulated.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving disclosure of millions of Facebook users’ data plunged the world’s largest social network into a critical moment of self-reflection.

“I am neither a judge nor a shareholder of Facebook, but Mr. Zuckerberg has lost a lot of trust. Including mine,” EU Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová, who is coordinating the European response to the data scandal, said in an interview with Handelsblatt.

According to Facebook, which has a staggering 2.2 billion users overall, the personal data of 87 million users worldwide could have been compromised, including more than 70 million Americans.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony could have far-reaching legal and political consequences. And although he promised improvements, that wasn’t enough for many politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

All eyes on him. Source: dpa

The Czech native Ms. Jourová accused the Facebook boss of negligence in handling his customers’ data and urged affected users to claim compensation.

“He founded Facebook with friends, but then it quickly became a business — and not a normal one,” Ms. Jourová said about Mr. Zuckerberg. “I think he has gotten in over his head over time.” The EU commissioner, who deleted her own Facebook account two years ago, plans to discuss the scandal with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a phone call on Thursday.

“Ms. Sandberg has promised me in a letter that they will do everything so that such an incident does not happen again. But that’s not enough for me. I still have questions,” the EU politician said, without disclosing details.

In Washington, Brussels and Berlin, various options are being explored to counteract and control the power over users’ data that platforms like Facebook have.

There are vast differences between the US and the European approach to privacy and data protection laws. “There is no comprehensive legal data protection in the US, as there is in Europe,” Ms. Jourová said. “But people are waking up now, they will not share their own data as generously as they have before. The scandal is also a wake-up call for European companies: They see that digital businesses live on trust. If the trust is gone, then there is no more business.”

“I am neither a judge nor a shareholder of Facebook, but Mr. Zuckerberg has lost a lot of trust.”

Věra Jourová, EU Justice Commissioner

In Europe, 2.7 million Facebook users are affected by the scandal. Data protection authorities in Germany and other EU countries are investigating the case. On May 25, tough new EU data protection rules will come into effect.

She acknowledged that this scandal most likely won’t be the last, but the EU will be better prepared for future ones with the new law. “The digital economy will need the approval of its users before it can process personal information,” the commissioner explained. “And the company needs to tell users clearly what their information is collected for.” Companies that violate the law will incur high fines — up to 4 percent of the company’s global annual revenue, to be exact.

German Minister of Justice Katarina Barley also hopes that European users will be more protected by the law. She was disappointed in Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony, the Social Democrat told Handelsblatt.

Although Ms. Barley welcomed the fact that he clearly acknowledged his own responsibility, in the end it was just announcements and promises. She added, “From a billion-dollar company like Facebook I expected more, and above all, more substance.”

Ruth Berschens and Till Hoppe are Handelsblatt correspondents in Brussels. Stephanie Ott is a Handelsblatt Global editor in New York. To contact the authors: berschens@handelsblatt.comt.hoppe@handelsblatt.com, and s.ott@extern.handelsblatt.com.

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