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Four of the EU's harshest hits against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Key Points
  • Zuckerberg was invited to meet with EU leaders to "clarify issues related to the use of personal data."
  • EU representatives pitched tough questions on shadow profiles, data tracking and Facebook's market power — and took their shots at Facebook's top executive.
  • A member from Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, delivered some of the strongest blows to Zuckerberg, at one point likening him to a character from a dystopian novel.
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Zuckerberg's testimony before the European Parliament: The four key moments

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stayed pretty quiet during a meeting with members of the European Parliament, but the EU leaders sure didn't.

Zuckerberg was invited to meet with EU leaders on Tuesday to "clarify issues related to the use of personal data." EU representatives pitched tough questions on shadow profiles, data tracking and Facebook's market power — and took their shots at Facebook's top executive.

Some of Europe's top regulators characterized Zuckerberg as a "genius who created a digital monster," asked if he had "too much power" and questioned whether Facebook's policies were "morally acceptable." They also berated the CEO for repeating the same talking points again and again.

If you missed Tuesday's exchanges, here are some of the harshest hits:

1. 'A genius who created a digital monster'

A member from Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, delivered some of the strongest blows to Zuckerberg, at one point comparing the CEO to a character from a dystopian novel.

"[Dave Egger's 'The Circle'] is about a big data company who is out of control — not even the owner has control on it, and that data is used in in elections," Verhofstadt said. "And it seems to me very near to the reality. Also the fact that maybe you have less control or no control about your own company at the moment."

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Union's lead Brexit negotiator.
Thomas Samson | AFP | Getty Images

Verhofstadt also invoked Zuckerberg's legacy and implied it's now at an inflection point.

"You have to ask yourself how you will be remembered — as one of the three big internet giants together with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have enriched our worlds and our societies," Verhofstadt said. "Or on the other, in fact, a genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracies and our societies."

Verhofstadt was one of the most vocal critics of the meeting format, which allowed Zuckerberg to essentially pick and choose which big-picture themes he wanted to address, often with rehearsed talking points.

"I'm anxious of this new, brave new world that Mr. Zuckerberg has presented us," Verhofstadt said, "a brave new world where tens and tens of thousands of private people are scrutinizing us and are saying what is fake news, what is not fake news, what is hate speech, what is not hate speech."

2. 'Too much power in only one hand'

Several members of parliament asked about Facebook's market share, including German representative Manfred Weber:

"Would you consider your company as a monopoly?" Weber asked. "It is time to discuss breaking [up the] Facebook monopoly because it's already too much power in only one hand ... Can you convince me not to do so?"

3. 'Is it morally acceptable' 

Zuckerberg evaded questions about so-called shadow profiles, which Facebook creates and stores on non-Facebook users through pixels and plug-ins across the internet.

That line of questioning was kicked off by London representative Syed Kamall:

"Is it morally acceptable do you think in your opinion to collect non-Facebook users' data without them knowing what you do with it?" Kamall asked.

4. 'The same line again and again'

Several officials reminded Zuckerberg of his appearances before the U.S. Congress last month, but not in a congratulatory tone.

Nigel Farage
Frederick Florin | AFP | Getty Images

"I'm watching very carefully that testimony that you gave on Capitol Hill. Time and again people asked you, you know, is this genuinely a neutral political platform. And you come up with the same line again and again — it's well-crafted," said the U.K.'s Nigel Farage, a leader of the Brexit movement.

EU officials have historically been tougher on Silicon Valley and more concerned about privacy than their U.S. counterparts. Facebook has vowed to change many of the policies that have outraged regulators, cracking down on data-collecting apps and giving consumers simpler privacy controls. But the EU, members acknowledged, would be a tougher crowd.

"I want to mention something very obvious. You're not in the congressional hearing, you've come to the European Union and there is a big difference," said Britain's Claude Moraes. "You've come here not to Congress but to the European Union and we have expectations."

The lawmakers asked questions for about an hour while Zuckerberg took notes. He began answering questions with just seven minutes left in the session.

Zuckerberg talked about the company's efforts with artificial intelligence, its commitment to security on the platform and its past policy changes with regard to third-party apps. He didn't specifically address the "brave new world" or monopoly issues other than to repeat what he told the U.S. Congress: that "we exist in a very competitive space."