Recently, there has been a lot of coverage about how Facebook and other online platforms use our personal data.  Last month, Facebook’s Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg met with me and the other political group leaders in the European Parliament.  I was keen to press him on the questions my constituents had asked me to ask him.  I also wanted to give him a fair chance to address those concerns.

Unfortunately, the format of the meeting did not allow all my questions to be answered, especially those relating to so-called shadow profiles, where Facebook collects date on non-Facebook users who visit its pages.  I have now received more detailed answers from Facebook, which can be found below:


  1. Facebook has admitted to creating “shadow profiles” of people who surf the web but don’t have a Facebook account. Is avoiding the internet entirely the only way to prevent Facebook from collecting my data?

Any website or app you visit will need to collect some information in order for features on them to work. Facebook is no different. In addition, apps and websites that use one of our services — for example, a Like button, Facebook Login or our analytics and ads products — will send information to Facebook when you visit them. This data is used both to provide features such as Like buttons and aggregate reports about the way people are using these websites or apps, to show ads about Facebook, and for security as well as product improvements. This blog posthas more information about how this works. This informationis not used to create profiles on non-Facebook users.

  1. What do you do with the data from non-Facebook users?

We use information that apps and websites send to us when you visit them to provide our services, like Facebook Analytics, which provides aggregate data about how that app or website is used, as well as the Like button and other social plugins. Apps and websites may also choose to display ads from Facebook. Should a non-Facebook user visit those apps or sites, we do not show targeted ads from our advertisers to them or otherwise seek to personalise the content they see. However we may take the opportunity to show an ad encouraging the non-user to sign up for Facebook. We also use information we receive to protect the security of Facebook. For example, if a browser has visited hundreds of sites in the last five minutes, that’s a sign the device might be a bot.

  1. If you do that, is it morally acceptable do you think to collect non-facebook users’ data without them knowing what you do with it?

We are clear with people about the information Facebook collects— whether you use our service or not. And we expect the websites and apps that use our services to be equally clear. For example, when other websites use our services they are required to let people know via their data policy, cookie policy or cookie banner.

  1. Is a non-Facebook user able to see the data that’s been collected? If not, why not?

If you don’t use Facebook, you can ask for any information we store about you via a form in the Facebook Help Centre. We ask you to specify what you want before we provide any information. But as we explained in answer (1) we don’t create profiles on non-Facebook users.

  1. European courts have demanded the separation of users’ data between Facebook and WhatsApp. Will you promise there won’t be any exchange of users’ personal data between the two services?

No, because we will share data between Facebook and WhatsApp in order for Facebook to provide services like tools and analytics to WhatsApp and to help fight abuse on our services. For example, when we receive reports of a bad actor sending unwanted messages — like spam or abusive content — on either WhatsApp or Facebook, we can share information and can take action including blocking them across both services. We are not currently sharing European users’ WhatsApp account information to improve people’s product and ads experience on Facebook. If we do choose to do this in the future, we will do so in accordance with GDPR, working with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner and in a way that is transparent to people. More information is available here.

  1. Will you commit that no Facebook user or future Facebook user has to give consent for the processing of personal data more than what is necessary to use the service?

As part of the GDPR process, Facebook asks people to make choices about three things: ads based on data from partners; sensitive information they share in their profile (like religious or political views), and face recognition. We do not make consent to these a condition of using Facebook — in other words you can choose whatever you want and still use our service. And you can change those choices at any time via our updated Settings. We also ask people to agree to our updated terms of service to continue using Facebook. We’re clear with people about the services Facebook offers and how they work, and people can control their experience. 

  1. Will Facebook develop a mode of operation that allows Facebook users to completely opt out of targeted advertising?

For every ad we show, we give you the option to find out why you’re seeing that ad and an option to turn off ads from that advertiser entirely. You can also manage what type of ads you see by going to your ad preferences.There you can opt-out of: targeting based on your interests and certain profile fields (e.g., relationship status); seeing ads based on information we have received from other websites and apps you use; and using your Facebook interests to show ads on otherwebsites and apps. There is no ads free option — and people mostly tell us that if they are going to see ads they’d rather those ads were useful and relevant. We don’t tell advertisers who you are; and we don’t sell your data.


Cambridge Analytica

  1. In respect to Cambridge Analytica, will you compensate European Facebook users per Article 82 of GDPR?

 This was clearly a breach of trust. However, it’s important to remember that no bank account details, credit card information or national ID numbers were shared. Most people gave the app at issue here access to information like their public profile as well their page likes, friend list and birthday. It was the same for friends’ whose settings allowed sharing. In addition, Aleksandr Kogan, the app developer in this case, contracted to sell the information of people in the US –notpeople in the EU – to Cambridge Analytica and Kogan himself testified that he only transferred the data of US users. We have seen no evidence that Kogan shared data about European users with them. And we will conduct a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica, which we hope to complete as soon as we are authorized by the UK’s Information Commissioner.

  1. Is Cambridge Analytica an isolated case? Can you guarantee that another scandal will not happen in three, six, nine months’ time?

We’ve been clear that other apps could have misused people’s data before we tightened our policies in 2014. For example, in national newspaper ads in March we said, “We expect there are others.” It’s why Mark made clear in his opening statement that “we’re investigating every app that had access to large amounts of information before we locked down the platform in 2014. Where we have concerns, we’ll suspend the app and conduct an audit — and where we conclude data was misused, we’ll ban the app completely and tell anyone affected.”


Anti-trust and Competition

  1. Will you cooperate with the European antitrust authorities?

We are happy to address any questions the European competition authorities may have.

  1. If you have to split off, for example, Facebook Messenger, to give you an example, and WhatsApp, and to keep then Instagram, should that be a good deal for you, that you could accept?

As Mark said yesterday, people have many choices about how they spend time online — and advertisers have lots of options, too. The average person uses eight different apps to communicate and stay connected. And in Germany, for example, almost half of social media users do not use Facebook at all — instead using the many other messaging, photo or video sharing apps which have launched in the last few years. On the advertising side, Facebook accounts for just 6% of a $650 billion market. We’re also seeing lots of innovation, which typically does not happen in markets without competition.

There are also many consumer benefits to Messenger and WhatsApp being part of Facebook. For example, by working together we have been able to significantly improve safety across all these services. When we receive reports of a bad actor sending unwanted messages, spam or abusive or illegal content (for example images of the sexual exploitation of children), on any of our apps, we can take action across all services.

  1. Is there an alternative to Facebook’s services in Europe today?

Many. For instance, if you want to share a photo or video, you can choose between Facebook, DailyMotion, Snapchat, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Vimeo, Google Photos and Pinterest. Similarly, if you are looking to message someone, just to name a few, there’s Apple’s iMessage, Telegram, Skype, Line, Viber, WeChat, Snapchat and LinkedIn — as well as the traditional text messaging services your mobile phone carrier provides.

Equally, companies also have more options than ever when it comes to advertising – from billboards, print and broadcast, to newer platforms like Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Amazon or Snapchat. Facebook represents a small part (in fact, just 6%) of this $650 billion global media ecosystem and much of that has been achieved by helping small businesses – many of whom could never have previously afforded newspaper or TV ads – to cost-effectively reach a wider audience.



  1. Will Facebook commit to systematically and publicly release data on all politically relevant advertising in all campaigns or referendum campaigns?

We’re going to make advertising more transparent, and not just for political ads. Starting next month, people will be able to click “View Ads” on a Page and view all ads a Page is running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger — whether or not the person viewing is in the intended target audience for the ad. We are starting this test in Ireland and Canada and will roll out to other countries next month. We have already announced that people who manage Pages with large numbers of followers will need to be verified. Those who manage large Pages that do not clear the process will no longer be able to post. This will make it much harder for people to administer a Page using a fake account, which is strictly against our policies. We will also show you additional context about Pages to effectively assess their content. For example, you will be able to see whether a Page has changed its name. In the US, we are also starting to require advertisers running political and issue ads to verify their identity and location and to label their ads with information about who paid for the ad. These ads will be stored in a searchable archive for seven years. We anticipate rolling out these transparency measures to other countries soon.


Fake Accounts

  1. How can you explain that the number of false accounts on Facebook are on the rise? 

Over time, we have adjusted our methodology to calculate fake accounts, which has resulted in a slight increase in our estimate. The numbers can also vary due to spikes in the creation of fake accounts, or the performance of our detection technology to find and remove them. We disabled 583 million fake accounts in the first quarter of 2018, and we block millions of attempts to create fake accounts every day.

  1. Will Facebook commit to eradicate all remaining fake accounts by the end of the quarter, and systematically prevent the creation going forward?

We’re committed to doing everything we can to keep fake accounts off Facebook. But we cannot promise to eradicate them because, as Mark said yesterday, “security is not a problem you ever fully solve. We face sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are constantly evolving”. The good news is that over the past year, we’ve gotten increasingly better at finding and disabling fake accounts. We now block millions of fake accounts each day as people try to create them thanks to improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence.



  1. Will Facebook commit to pay taxes where it operates?

Yes. We pay all the taxes required by law. We’ve also announced last year that we are voluntarily moving to a local selling structure, meaning advertising revenue supported by our local teams will be recorded locally in that country. This will provide more transparency to governments and policymakers around the world who have called for greater visibility over the revenue associated with locally supported sales in their countries. With sales offices in nearly 30 countries, we expect this to be significant undertaking. We will be changing our structure in phases with a goal of rolling it out in many European countries in the next few months.


Neutrality of Facebook’s platform

  1. You’ve changed your algorithms and that has led to a substantial drop in views for right wing publications and Pages. Is Facebook a genuinely neutral platform? Facebook was built on the idea of connecting people with their friends and family. That is still the driving principle of News Feed, which has publicly stated News Feed values, one of of which is to be “a platform for all ideas”. Any changes are made according to these values, including two significant changes that we are making:
  • First, prioritizing meaningful connections between family and friends — the main reason people use our service. And as News Feed prioritizes posts from friends, public Pages of all types are likely to experience declines.
  • Second, ensuring more of the news people see on Facebook comes from broadlytrusted sources(thesesources receive a boost in News Feed), and thatsensationalism and clickbait is demoted. As part of these changes (which we have rolled out in the US first), lower-quality and less broadly-trusted Pages — both conservative and liberal — are seeing lower traffic than they used to. At the same time, these changes have helped other news organizations from across the political spectrum— such as the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times in the US.

We’ve communicated our strategy to tackle clickbait and engagement bait via ranking changes, including Downranking clickbait(August 2015), Further reducing clickbait in NewsFeed(August2016),Additional updates to minimize clickbait headlines (May2017),Videoclickbait(August2017), and most recently,Engagement bait (December2017).

  1. Who are your third-party fact-checkers?

Nobody wants fake news on Facebook, and one of the ways we fight it is by working with third-party fact-checkersto review and rate the accuracy of articles and posts on Facebook. These fact-checkers are independent and certifiedthrough the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. When these organizations rate something as false, we rank those stories significantly lower in News Feed. On average, this cuts future views by more than 80 percent. We also use the information from fact-checkers to improve our technology so we can identify more potential false news faster in the future. We’re looking forward to bringing this program to more countries this year.

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