Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologised on Tuesday for not doing enough to prevent the misuse of users’ data.
He said it had become clear that the company had not done enough to prevent its tools from being used to promote fake news, allow foreign meddling in elections, and from outside developers misusing personal information.
“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility,” said Mr Zuckerberg in prepared remarks to senior European Union politicians. “That was a mistake and I am sorry for it.”
Politicians said it was his 15th apology in a decade for Facebook failings. They called on Mr Zuckerberg to reveal all the data the company held about potential meddling in elections and questioned whether it should be broken up because of its status as a monopoly with 2.2 billion users.
Mr Zuckerberg did not respond to a number of the questions but accepted that authorities would put fresh controls on powerful social media sites. “I don’t think the question is whether or not there should be regulation. I think the question is what is the right regulation,” he said. “The important thing is to get this right.”
The 90-minute meeting ended with politicians complaining that Mr Zuckerberg had failed to answer all of their questions.
After they spent two-thirds of the time posing questions, Mr Zuckerberg had barely 25 minutes left to answer them before calling an end to the meeting. A Facebook spokesperson said Mr Zuckerberg's schedule was "very tight", although he was not scheduled for other meetings in Brussels.
The Facebook chief travelled to France on Wednesday to meet with President Emmanuel Macron at a conference in Paris, where the heads of companies including Microsoft, IBM and Uber were invited to discuss how technology can be used for the common good.
Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance in Brussels followed a 10-hour session before US congressional committees last month over the misuse of data scandal involving UK-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica (CA).
He has refused to appear before British politicians to answer questions about his company’s relationship with CA, which was accused of trying to obtain Facebook user data to influence Donald Trump’s campaigning strategy for the 2016 United States presidential election.
Mr Zuckerberg’s decision to snub the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee angered politicians, who are considering new regulations against social media companies such as Google and Facebook.
Mr Zuckerberg’s grilling came after a prominent critic called for a radical overhaul of the tech company’s business model after the “hijacking” of its 2.2 billion users.
Hours before Mr Zuckerberg’s appearance in Brussels, the British MPs heard testimony from Tristan Harris, a former Google employee who has said that Facebook is too powerful to be controlled by one man.
Mr Harris, the founder for the Centre for Humane Technology, called for Facebook’s business model to be dismantled because of the long-term effects on behaviour, mental health and technology addiction. He has previously said that the company should be turned into a heavily-regulated public benefit corporation to serve the public good.
He said politicians should:
:: Ban advertising that allows social media companies to use their vast data holdings to ‘micro-target’ voters
:: Change the legal basis of social media companies so they are held responsible for their impact on users
:: Tax the companies based on the level of harm to society through mental health problems and addiction
“When you control people’s minds, you control society,” said Mr Harris, speaking via videolink from Paris, where he is also due to attend a global tech summit organised by President Macron.
He said the companies employed “growth hackers” whose role was to use psychological tactics to build the number of users and increase the time they spent on a particular platform.
He said that the tactics had seen Facebook “hijack two billion human beings” through their “addiction to growth and global domination”.
He said that the gathering of vast amounts of data meant that engineers at technology companies would know better than an individual how they will behave and vote. “This is only going to continue, which is why we have to change course,” said Mr Harris.
“They [social media companies] fear any kind of regulation. They fear anything that would slow them down because they need to grow fast.
“It’s like a priest in a confession booth listening to two billion confessions” and then selling the product of those discussions, he said. “We should never have allowed them to have the business model of selling that to a third party.”