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Statement by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, made at the press conference held following the meeting with Mark Zuckerberg

Press Release

Today’s meeting with Mark Zuckerberg served to clarify many issues and enabled us to secure detailed commitments concerning the use of our personal data.

Ours is the only Parliament Mr Zuckerberg has so far appeared before in Europe. I now hope that the other platforms will show the same readiness to cooperate.

Quite rightly, Mr Zuckerberg has apologised to EU citizens. This represents the first step towards re-establishing trust. The fact that he agreed to come here in person has sent out a clear signal that no one can ignore our institution’s standing as a regulator and that we intend to carry out to the full our role as legislator in the world’s largest market.

There must be no repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But that scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. Many digital platforms have already made collecting and processing our data their core business. A quick glance at their share prices is enough to illustrate the enormous value attached to personal data today.

The exploitation of that data, involving the use of profiling techniques and ever more sophisticated algorithms, poses a serious threat to the democratic process as well. We have a duty to prevent the illegal use of those technologies.

Democracy cannot be transformed into a marketing operation in which the winners are those who can employ more resources than anyone else in order to obtain our data and manipulate information.

European elections will be held in exactly one year’s time. Our citizens must be able to exercise the right to vote in full knowledge of the facts, on the basis of accurate information. At present, however, there is a danger that some parties, or even foreign powers, may make improper use of the information collected by platforms to influence the outcome of these elections, not least by employing what can only be described as disinformation strategies based on the dissemination of fake news.

To counter this unacceptable development, we need sound rules and more accountable platforms which are prepared to work with us.

In two days’ time, new rules called for by Parliament will enter into force which impose penalties for improper use of our personal data. I hope that all operators will observe those rules to the letter.

In our democracies, freedom and responsibility must go hand in hand. Platforms have to be answerable for the content that they publish, in the same way as any other publishers, not just when it comes to fake news, but also as regards child pornography, incitement to radicalisation, racial hatred, or terrorism, arms sales and infringement of intellectual property rights.

Today’s meeting is the starting point for a new kind of platform governance. Over the next few weeks there will be a series of hearings with all the relevant stakeholders, who will be appearing before the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the other committees concerned.

Once those hearings have been completed, Parliament will spell out practical ways to avert the risks of manipulation of the democratic process. Our priority is to lay down a framework of rules to ensure that the digital market can function properly. That framework must impose clear responsibilities on operators and protect personal data, copyright and consumer rights more effectively.

My first obligation as President is to seek to bridge the divide that separates us from citizens. Today we are, once again, affirming the paramount importance of Parliament and its leading role in protecting the rights of 500 million Europeans.

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