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Zuckerberg sidesteps questions from European Parliament on shadow profiles

Moving on from his meeting with Congress, Mark Zuckerberg finally met with members of the European Parliament yesterday to discuss security concerns over his social media site, Facebook. Taking just half an hour to answer all of the board’s questions, Zuckerberg managed to dodge enquiries into Facebook’s ‘shadow profiles’ while drawing attention to his efforts on quelling fake news, election interference and platform regulation.

The term ‘shadow profiles’ comes from the data that Facebook collects of those that don’t actually use the social media platform and therefore haven’t consented to their data being gathered. The European Parliament, along with members of the US Congress and many other official bodies speculate that Facebook uses the data to construct profiles on the non-users, however Zuckerberg failed to address these concerns before swiftly moving onto other points.

This is the fault of the European Parliament’s format of questioning, which forwent the typical question and answer process in favour of each member of Parliament asking their questions consecutively for roughly 50 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of Zuckerberg’s answers.

Zuckerberg claimed that he wasn’t familiar with the term ‘shadow profiles’ in his testimony to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, despite reinforcing the importance of Facebook’s collection of non-users to the European Parliament.

“To your point about earlier around how do we separate out the security data — it’s very important that we don’t have people who aren’t Facebook users coming to our service and trying to scrape the public data that’s available,” explains Zuckerberg. “So one of the ways that we do that is, you know people use our service, and — even if they’re not signed in, we need to understand how they’re using the service to prevent bad activity.”

The lack of straight answers towards how Facebook handles the data, as well as addressing the moral implications of collecting the data from those that haven’t consented is increasingly concerning, particularly given that the social media site hasn’t been impervious to cyberattacks that have leaked millions of personally identifiable information.

While it might be smoke and mirrors to distract from the questionable practices surrounding shadow profiles, Zuckerberg did reveal that Facebook will be providing a way for users to clear their history of all basic browsing data, which should arrive in the coming months.

KitGuru Says: It’s good to see Facebook emphasising the importance of protecting its own users, even if it does seem less than forthright at times. I can’t speak for how out of the ordinary Zuckerberg’s platform is compared to other sites but Facebook does have a duty to set a standard given that it is practically the biggest website in the world. Hopefully this will trickle down and see other sites similarly revising their platform in favour of the user.  

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