“Also, the fact that maybe you have less control or no control about your own company for the moment,” he continued, “because you have to apologize now. I think in total, you apologized now 15 or 16 times in the last decade. In 2003 you started. Every year you have one or other wrongdoing or problem with Facebook and you have to face the reality and to say sorry and to say that you are going to fix it. Last year, I think it was twice that you apologized. This year, it’s three times already and we’re still in the month of May, so it’s a little bit early in the year.”
Hair parted down the middle, arms crossed, Verhofstadt chuckled. He was just getting started.
“Are you capable to fix it?” he asked. “The only way in my opinion to do it—and I’m a liberal, a free marketeer—is to have public regulation to do so. It’s a little bit like with the banks in 2006, 2007, 2008. They said, ‘We’re going to do self-regulation. Don’t bother. We’re going to do it ourselves.’ The reality is that they didn’t do it themselves. And it was needed to have tough regulation.”
This is not how most American politicians talk to Facebook and the rest of Silicon Valley. He then challenged Zuckerberg’s commitment to implementing the GDPR.
“You have told us that you are gonna apply [the GDPR rules], but are you telling the truth in fact to us?” he asked. “Are you telling the truth because since the outbreak of Cambridge Analytica, you have massively transferred European data of non-European citizens out from Europe ... I have to tell you that is against the regulation, against GDPR, and against existing directive in Europe of 95/46, which is still applicable.”
In this, he was referencing a (unannounced but acknowledged) change in the way that Facebook handles the data storage for millions of users, moving it out of Ireland/the EU and into the United States.
He then raised the possibility that under article 82 of the GDPR, Facebook would have to compensate European Facebook users under certain conditions, and suggested that their value to the service might be a basis for that payment. “My value—I have examined it—my value as a Facebook user, is $186. I thought it was more,” he joked. “Maybe my wife thinks it’s less. Maybe it’s less, some of my opponents think it’s less.”
Just multiplying Verhofstadt’s number by the roughly 180 million Western European Facebook users, that’d be a bill of $33,480,000,000, or more than double the company’s 2017 income.
And then he went in for his final point, that Facebook was obviously and problematically a social-media monopoly. A previous Parliamentarian had asked Zuckerberg to convince him that the company was not a monopoly.
“You cannot convince him because it is nonsense, naturally!” he scoffed. “You have given the example of Twitter, you have given the example I think also of Google as some of your competitors, but it’s like somebody who has a monopoly in making cars is saying, ‘Look, I have a monopoly making cars, but there is no problem. You can take a plane! You can take a train! You can even take your bike! So I have no monopoly.’ There is a problem there.”