Facebook's Zuckerberg Hearing Fails to Win European Plaudits

(Bloomberg) -- The early critique of Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to restore trust with U.S. lawmakers was mostly positive, with shares bouncing back. Europeans waking up to reports from the five-hour congressional hearing are not as convinced.

Senators cross-examined Zuckerberg Tuesday over the leak of data on 87 million people and signaled they may move to rein in the social media giant.

German Justice Minister Katarina Barley was critical of the CEO. She took to Twitter citing Zuckerberg’s pledge that he would accept responsibility for his company’s failures, saying that "apparently this hasn’t been that important until now.”

“Facebook must finally protect the privacy of millions of people,” she said. “It’s good that we have stringent rules in the European Union. Whoever breaks those will feel the consequences."

Barley had met with Facebook officials in March in Berlin but came out of the meeting dissatisfied with the company’s response, indicating that Germany wants tighter regulation of social networks in the future -- something senators repeatedly threatened during Tuesday’s hearing.

“A multi-billion dollar social media platform saying it is sorry simply is not enough,” the European Union’s top privacy official said after a two-day meeting by EU regulators in Brussels. The so-called Article 29 group on Wednesday said it will develop a long-term strategy on the collection and use of personal data by social media companies.

“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, chair of the group of 28 EU data regulators, said in a statement.

In the U.K., one former lawmaker was critical -- but of the lines of questioning undertaken by some members of Congress, not the 33-year-old CEO.

"Watching some of the U.S. Senate question Mark Zuckerberg was painful," former Conservative lawmaker Nick de Bois said in a Twitter post Wednesday morning. "Some senators were hopelessly out of their depth."

Facebook shares Tuesday jumped more than 5 percent to the highest level in more than two weeks.

There were some positive sentiments. Speaking on French radio Wednesday morning, Dominique Delport, global managing director at advertising agency Havas, said Zuckerberg’s confirmation that Facebook will respect incoming data protection rules -- known as GDPR -- in Europe was immensely positive for the region.

He was also complimentary of the company’s transparency. "I really think they’re sincere in learning that things aren’t as simple as ‘move fast, break things,’" Delport said.

Later Wednesday, Facebook officials will meet with senior U.K. lawmakers, including Culture Secretary Matt Hancock. The politician is unlikely to go easy on the company. "I expect Facebook to explain why they put the data of over a million of our citizens at risk," he said on April 4. "This is completely unacceptable, and they must demonstrate this won’t happen again."

The EU isn’t planning on letting the CEO off lightly either now he’s personally appeared before Congress. A call between Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova will take place Thursday, Jourova said Wednesday. She will also push for the 33-year-old to make a personal appearance in Europe.

“I think it’s a proper thing to ask Mr. Zuckerberg to Europe and the European Parliament and ask the European kinds of questions,” the commissioner told reporters in Brussels.

Zuckerberg will give further testimony in the U.S. during a second round of hearings Wednesday.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.