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European politicians have dismissed Nick Clegg’s appointment as Facebook’s top lobbyist as a public relations ploy that won’t lead to real reform at the company.
The former UK deputy prime minister announced last week that he is moving to California to take up a post as Facebook’s head of global affairs and communications.
Facebook’s hiring of the former European Commission official and MEP is seen as an effort to improve its relations with the EU, who have the power to set tough regulations on tech giants.
Clegg said in a statement he would be helping the company “to ensure that technology is a force for good” by “working with people, organisations, governments and regulators around the world.”
But senior members of the European parliament, which summoned Facebook founder to Brussels over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, have expressed scepticism that Clegg will be part of a change of ways at the company.
“Zuckerberg has realised he has an image problem,” said socialist group leader Udo Bullmann in answer to a question on the issue from Yahoo UK. “Everything else has to be seen.”
Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the Green group, also said: “The fact that he’s been hired by Mark Zuckerberg is not in itself a sign that Facebook will change course. It’s quite clear that the obsession of Facebook is to avoid regulation.”
“When you see that Facebook is enjoying a quasi-monopoly in this business, you’re led to think that this is dangerous to have – Nick Clegg or no Nick Clegg,” he added.
Clegg’s appointment has also sparked concerns on the other side of the political spectrum, with UKIP MEP Nigel Farage calling it a “worrying step towards further censorship of conservative voices on the platform.”
Their interventions came as MEPs debated new measures in response to the scandal over the Cambridge Analytica data breach, which affected 87 million Facebook users.
An EU audit of Facebook’s data protection mechanisms and rules to prevent the platform being used to manipulate elections are recommended in a report authored by British Labour MEP Claude Moraes.
European justice commissioner Vera Jourova backed the report despite saying she recognised that “many companies, including Facebook, are trying to fix the mistakes they made.”
Liberal MEP Sophia in t’Veld said she was “not convinced” that Facebook was committed to reform.
“They may have fixed some mistake if they had to, but they’re making new ones in the meantime,” she said. “They’re not mistakes they’re deliberately trying to circumvent the law.”
Green co-leader Ska Keller added: “We’re not happy with just some minor tweaks to the privacy settings of Facebook because the Cambridge Analytica scandal was not just a privacy scandal but a political scandal that is putting a threat to our democracy.”
Moraes warned MEPs that Facebook’s failings had already had an effect on referendums and elections.
But Conservative MEP Dan Dalton dismissed suggestions that the scandal played a part in the Brexit vote or Donald Trump’s election as US president.