Zuckerberg asked to explain himself in European Parliament

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(Bloomberg) -- Mark Zuckerberg was urged to pack his bags for Europe to be grilled by European Union lawmakers in a re-run of his U.S. congressional testimony this week.

The European Parliament decided Thursday to invite Facebook Inc.’s chief executive officer to appear before three of the assembly’s committees. The move follows a call on Wednesday by EU Justice Chief Vera Jourova for the social network giant’s founder to explain in person how the Facebook data of as many as 2.7 million Europeans could have ended up in the hands of British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

“I do think that Mark Zuckerberg should appear before the European Parliament,” Sophie In ’t Veld, a Dutch member of the EU assembly’s Liberal group told Bloomberg Television. “The data of European citizens are concerned and this is a major political problem.”

Zuckerberg on Wednesday concluded two days of questioning by the U.S. Senate and House lawmakers, kick-starting a new era of government scrutiny of Facebook. The CEO’s trip to Washington came after weeks of damaging reports and criticism from both sides of the Atlantic about the social network’s data practices. Regulators in Europe called revelations that Cambridge Analytica had obtained swathes of data from a researcher a “game changer” in the world of privacy protection.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and the EU’s Jourova are scheduled to have a call on Thursday. The EU commissioner said Wednesday “it’s the proper thing to invite Mr. Zuckerberg to Europe” and for the European Parliament “to ask the European kind of questions.”

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s call for Zuckerberg to appear.

In ’t Veld said data protection authorities should also be quizzed about why they had to wait for the scandal to erupt before acting. She said she hopes EU “data protection authorities are going to be a lot more alert” when new privacy rules take effect across the 28-nation bloc starting next month. The measures will give watchdogs tough sanctioning powers, with maximum fines for the most serious violations of as much as 4 percent of a company’s annual sales.

“We’ve been been far too lax about data protection and privacy protection and in a way, it’s a very good wake-up call,” In ’t Veld said. Regulators should now “verify if and to what extent the law has been broken, and then sanctions should be applied.”

EU privacy watchdogs after a two-day meeting in Brussels this week said a sorry from Facebook is “simply not enough.”

“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,” Andrea Jelinek, head of the group of 28 EU data authorities, said in a statement published Thursday. EU regulators are aware “that the issue is broader and concerns other actors, such as app developers and data brokers.”

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