Friday

5th Mar 2021

Zuckerberg lobbies Brussels ahead of new EU rules

  • Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted Facebook was 'slow to understand Russian operations' and elections interference (Photo: Billionaires Success)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited Brussels on Monday (17 February) to lobby top European officials in charge of digital policies, two days before the bloc unveils new rules governing data and artificial intelligence (AI) - including facial recognition.

The EU competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, and the commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, discussed the EU's digital agenda with Zuckerberg, after the Facebook chief called for tighter regulation in elections, on harmful content, and on privacy and data portability.

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"Even if I'm not going to agree with every regulation in the near term, I do think it's going to be the kind of thing that builds trust and better governance of the internet, and will benefit everyone, including us, over the long term," Zuckerberg said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

But Breton said on Monday that the EU will have decided by the end of the year whether to tighten rules to rein the market dominance of American tech giants such as Facebook, after he described Zuckerberg's proposals as insufficient to address EU concerns.

Facebook has rapidly evolved from a platform that enables ubiquitous communication between people to a highly-valuable database of information about its 2.9bn users worldwide - of which 286m are based in Europe.

As a result, EU lawmakers keep asking Facebook to increase its transparency efforts and to comply with EU rules.

'Cannot push away responsibility'

While Facebook is under increasing pressure to stop the spread of false information, Zuckerberg recently admitted Facebook was "slow to understand Russian operations" and elections interference.

The commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourová, said after her meeting with Zuckerberg that she wants companies like Facebook to make "an extra effort to help defend our democracies".

"Facebook cannot push away all the responsibility," she insisted.

The European Commission will have to look at transparency and the oversight of algorithms, address filter 'bubbles' and ensure improved access to data, so "we can all understand better what is happening on the platforms," Jourová added.

The commission's forthcoming European Democracy Action Plan, which will be unveiled at the end of the year, will address the EU's approach to fight disinformation.

Responding to the possibility that the EU may hold internet companies responsible for hate speech, the white paper published by Facebook on Monday said that the regulatory approach does not respond to the reality of the internet.

"Such liability would stifle innovation as well as individuals' freedom of expression," the paper said.

However, according to Jourová, 'Big Tech' is a part of the solution to the digital challenges which "they helped to create".

"I am glad to see Facebook's thinking is shifting and is more aligned with the European approach on different regulatory aspects," said Jourová.

Facebook 'cannot exist' without AI

However, Facebook is facing regulatory challenges with EU authorities, amid heightened public scrutiny over their data practices in Europe - especially since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force.

Last week, Facebook suspended the rollout of its new dating app in Europe, which was planned for the eve of Valentine's Day, after the firm failed to provide information in a privacy-review process.

Likewise, Facebook is currently being examined by the EU anti-trust investigators for leveraging its own access to users' data and market dominance, as well as for its proposed digital currency Libra.

But, just like GDPR, new EU rules on AI are expected to have an impact on the social network's business.

The use of AI within the company's core products has been rapidly increasing since 2013 when Zuckerberg presented the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) group.

And according to Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, the head of Facebook's applied machine learning group, "Facebook today cannot exist without AI".

Facebook uses AI to govern the type of content that appears in user's news feed and to power the ad-targeting system that makes Facebook's billions - but also to help prevent suicides, to spot nudity in images, and to flag fake news.

EU states given right to police Facebook worldwide

National courts in EU states can order Facebook to delete content "worldwide", Europe's top tribunal has ruled, in what the US social media giant called an attack on free speech.

Online platforms need regulating, Jourova warns

The EU commission vice-president pledged to tackle disinformation by regulating platforms and cleaning up online political advertising rules. She also pointed to Russia and China as wanting to undermine European democracy.

EU to better protect journalists, Jourova promises

The current Czech commissioner for justice, Vera Jourova, was approved for the next commission, as she promised to defend democracy from online threats, and to present ideas about reforming future European elections by 2020.

Opinion

Only EU can tame Zuckerberg's Facebook

When the EU speaks, Silicon Valley listens. The tech titans know that the EU matters. Which is why it's so crucial that following the lobbying from Zuckerberg, on disinformation, the EU gets regulation right.

'Big Five' tech giants spent €19m lobbying EU in 2020

The increased regulatory scrutiny of tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft has triggered a rise in lobbying activities by these companies in Brussels, and, accordingly, an exponential grow of their budget for these activities.

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