Saturday 20 July 2019

Facebook is no monopoly, Zuckerberg tells MEPs

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the European Parliament. Picture: Reuters
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the European Parliament. Picture: Reuters

Margi Murphy and James Titcomb

Mark Zuckerberg has denied allegations from MEPs that Facebook is operating a monopoly, insisting that the social network faces plenty of competition and has helped business across the world to grow.

The Facebook founder was quizzed on his competitors during a grilling in front of European leaders in Brussels yesterday evening. The 34-year-old billionaire had struggled to name a direct rival when questioned by US senators last month, but told MEPs in Brussels that Facebook operates in a competitive market.

"We exist in a very competitive space where people use lots of different tools for communication... From where I sit, it feels like there are new competitors coming up every day," he said, in response to questions about whether Facebook should be separated from its Instagram and WhatsApp subsidiaries.

Facebook takes up 6pc of global advertising spend, which gives people "a lot of choice," he added.

Mr Zuckerberg said Facebook had been good for competition more broadly, allowing smaller businesses to grow by letting them advertise to audiences that had previously been available only to large companies.

He said: "Around the world there are 70 million businesses that use Facebook tools to grow and reach customers, and in Europe alone there are 18 million; half of them have told us that they are hiring more people because they are using our tools." His statement attempted to distance Facebook from the antitrust cases that have afflicted Microsoft and more recently Google in the EU.

Microsoft was fined €561m in 2013 for failing to promote rival web browsers, while Google was last year ordered to pay €2.4bn for abusing its internet search monopoly to promote its shopping service.

Yesterday's hearing, coming two months after the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, lasted less than an hour and a half, almost an hour of which was taken up by statements and questions from MEPs.

In an unusual format, each member of the conference of presidents, which includes Brexiteer Nigel Farage and the Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, was given several minutes to ask questions, with Mr Zuckerberg given a restricted time at the end of the session to answer in no particular order.

Mr Farage accused Facebook of "wilfully discriminating" against conservative voices.

At one point, when UK Conservative MEP Syed Kamall attempted to push Mr Zuckerberg on how Facebook collects so-called "shadow profiles" about non-users, Mr Zuckerberg said there was not time to answer the question. He told Mr Farage, Facebook is "not targeting any particular political ideology".

British MP Damian Collins called it a "missed opportunity" and said Facebook's boss had been able to "cherry-pick" the questions he wanted to answer.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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