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Zuckerberg to face public hearing at European Parliament after protests

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the US House of Representatives (Getty)

Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with Euro MPs is to be broadcast online after plans for it to take place behind closed doors sparked protests.

The Facebook CEO has agreed to come to the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels tomorrow to answer questions about the misuse of personal data held by the company.

His meeting with a select group of MEPs was set to take place in private, with two Facebook executives being sent to face a public grilling from an EP committee.

But EP President Antonio Tajani has today announced that Zuckerberg has agreed to the meeting being streamed live online.

The development comes after Tajani faced a barrage of criticism for agreeing to hold a private meeting about a breach of data privacy.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Parliament’s liberal group and Brexit coordinator, had threatened to boycott the meeting if it was kept behind closed doors.

A petition set up by a German Green MEP demanding that the meeting be held in public received 30,000 signatures over the weekend.

And Damian Collins, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee which has been snubbed by Zuckerberg, weighed into the row yesterday.

Tajani’s spokesman, Nick Simoncini, insisted the meeting was not secret and promised a transcript of the conservation would be published.

But the EP President’s hand was forced on Friday when five of eight of the Parliament’s political groups instructed him to broadcast the meeting live online.

As well as Tajani, tomorrow’s meeting will be attended by the leaders of the EP’s eight political groups and two representatives of its civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee.

That means two UK MEPs will be in the room –UKIP’s Nigel Farage as a group leader and Labour’s Claude Moraes as the committee chair.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani (Getty)

The meeting comes just three days before a new EU data privacy law – the GDPR – comes into force. Companies which fall foul of it could be fined up to 4% of their global annual turnover.

After visiting Brussels, Zuckerberg will travel to Paris for a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The meetings are part of what has been dubbed an “apology tour” for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the data of 87 million Facebook users harvested without their consent.

“Our citizens deserve a full and detailed explanation,” said Tajani when he announced the meeting with Zuckerberg had been secured last week.

“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.”

Zuckerberg appeared in front of both houses of the US Congress last month, but has repeatedly refused to requests to appear in the UK Parliament – despite the threat of a formal summons.

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