Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to travel to Brussels to meet with senior European Parliament politicians behind closed doors to address their concerns about his company’s handling of personal data.
MEPs have long wanted to question the Silicon Valley CEO about Facebook’s data practices, with a particular interest in how the social network’s advert targeting might be affecting elections.
Mr Zuckerberg is expected to visit the EU capital as early as next week, though no specific date for his trip has yet been announced. He will meet with the leaders of the Parliament’s political groups, the so-called conference of presidents.
Some MEPs however pledged to boycott the meeting because of its private nature, arguing that the tech boss should appear and answer questions in public.
Sources familiar with the organisation of the meeting told The Independent that the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest group in Parliament, managed to get agreement for the private appearance despite a rebellion by other political groups calling for a public one.
Representatives from Ukip and the Conservatives’ groups, the EFFD and ECR, are said to have relented and agreed to the private discussion despite initial objections.
Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt said: “I will not attend the meeting with Mr Zuckerberg if it’s held behind closed doors. It must be a public hearing – why not a Facebook Live? I strongly regret that the EPP has colluded with extreme right to keep everything behind closed doors.”
Udo Bullmann, the leader of the socialists group said: “Mark Zuckerberg must appear before the Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, not in a closed door meeting, so we can have an open and transparent debate on how Facebook is using our data.”
The Parliament’s presidency said that as well as Mr Zuckerberg’s private visit, Facebook management would organise a separate visit without the CEO to attend the committee for a public hearing.
The tech boss has also been invited to appear before the British Parliament but has so far declined. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which asked him to attend, has said it will issue a “formal summons for [Mr Zuckerberg] to appear when he is next in the UK”. Contempt of Parliament is an offence in the UK, though it has been untested in the courts in recent times.
Mr Zuckerberg has previously testified before the US Congress.
Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, said: “The Conference of Presidents has agreed that Mark Zuckerberg should come to clarify issues related to the use of personal data in a meeting with representatives of the European Parliament.
“The founder and CEO of Facebook has accepted our invitation and will be in Brussels as soon as possible, hopefully already next week, to meet with the leaders of the political groups and the chair and rapporteur of the committee for civil liberties, justice, and home affairs.
“Our citizens deserve a full and detail explanation. I welcome Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to appear in person before the representatives of 500 million Europeans. It is a step in the right direction towards restoring confidence.”
Mr Tajani added that there would be an “in-depth analysis of aspects related to persona data protection” with “particular emphasis” placed on “the potential impact on electoral processes in Europe”.