Facebook whistleblower testifies in European Parliament 

Frances Haugen  

MEPs discussed harmful big tech practices with former Facebook employee Frances Haugen on 8 November.

During the hearing with Haugen, who blew the whistle on company practices harmful to users and society, MEPs expressed concerns about issues such as the exploitation of children and teenagers’ mental health and micro-targeting, including for political purposes.

Online safety is a priority for the Parliament, which is currently working on new rules for the rapidly changing online world, to ensure a better and safer digital environment for internet users in the EU and a competitive environment that will allow more businesses to thrive.

How the hearing might influence EU legislation

The hearing is important to Europeans for two reasons, said Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark), lead MEP for the Digital Services Act (DSA): “First of all, I think all users of Facebook should know and understand to the greatest extent the business model and the choices behind the operation of the platform. Secondly these revelations will impact the DSA and thus European users of Facebook and other platforms in the near future.”

“Facebook plays a large role in modern society,” added Andreas Schwab (EPP, Germany), the MEP responsible for the Digital Markets Act (DMA). “It shows users political ads and political content based on our personal data” and its rules “can change the volume of the resulting ‘echo chambers’.”

“In a democracy, we have laws for offline political content and elected politicians, not private companies, make those laws,” he said, underlining the need to regulate online political advertising.

Parliament’s plans to regulate social media platforms

Reflecting the negative impact of platforms on users revealed by Haugen, Schaldemose emphasised the importance of accountability in the coming legislation.

“I am arguing that recommender systems should not be based on involuntary profiling as a default. If users want recommendations based on the platform profiling them, it must be a clear request through informed consent,” she said.

“The Digital Markets Act will make sure that personal data can only be used for political advertising if users give their renewed consent,” says Schwab.“We can never have a Cambridge Analytica 2.0 where personal data is abused for political gain.”

“The Digital Services Act will also play a role in regulating illegal content. Most importantly, at the end of 2021, the EU will propose a law on online political advertising and on disinformation. The Commission must hurry up now to make this proposal - Mrs Haugen’s revelations have shown that we cannot wait any longer.”

Learn more about why the EU wants to regulate the platform economy

Watch the video of the hearing