Interview: Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada
Kevin is the Global Director and Head of Public Policy at Facebook Canada
IBR: “Public policy” is a broad term. How would you best describe your role and its importance?
KC: Working on public policy at Facebook means collaborating with stakeholders—governments, academics, civil society and regular people—to address frontier internet issues. Over 24 million Canadians connect on Facebook every month, which naturally gives rise to many public policy topics that are also top of mind for us, such as online safety, civic engagement, the digital wellbeing of families, freedom of expression, election integrity and Indigenous culture and content online.
IBR: Most of us don’t think about policy issues affecting the Internet. In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues currently weighing on policymakers’ minds?
KC: I can’t speak on behalf of policymakers, but I can tell you that at Facebook, we’re intently focused on election integrity and minimizing the spread of misinformation online. We have devoted significant time, resources and personnel to address these issues. On a global level, we’ve doubled our security team to 20,000 employees and we are developing new artificial intelligence technologies to automatically find and disable fake accounts. Here in Canada, we are investing in partnerships like our thirdparty fact-checking program with Agence France-Presse through which professional fact-checkers are able to rate the veracity of news articles on Facebook, and we launched a crisis hotline for political parties and politicians in the event of cyber interference, including suspected hacks. We’ve made a lot of progress in the past two years to ensure the integrity of our platform. These efforts were a top priority as we navigated municipal and provincial elections across Canada in 2018 and will remain top-of-mind in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election.
IBR: In what ways do you think Facebook is beneficial to society? In what ways is it detrimental?
KC: Facebook helps people around the world stay connected to the people and things they care about. As a platform, Facebook has a positive impact on the economy and society, helping people organize and mobilize, connecting citizens with their elected officials, and driving small business growth. Drawing on a recent example, this past October for Small Business Week in Canada, Facebook was invited by the communities of Port Rowan and Kapuskasing to hold best practices sessions as part of our ongoing Connecting Canada’s Rural Communities Tour. We launched this initiative back in June with the Carcross Tagish First Nation in the Yukon, to shine a spotlight on the incredible ways Canadians are harnessing the power of Facebook to fuel growth for their businesses, build local economies and create meaningful connections across rural communities. We have been challenged by certain bad actors that have abused our platform with respect to election integrity and misinformation, and we are working hard to address these challenges. In the past, we didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibilities around these issues, and that’s been one of our most important learnings in the past two years.
IBR: Facebook’s integration into billions of users’ lives gives it a privileged position in society. How does the company balance the ethical obligations that come with holding such influence?
KC: It truly is a privilege to serve our communities throughout Facebook’s family of apps. With this privilege comes great responsibility—a responsibility we take very seriously—to ensure the integrity of our platform and the privacy of people’s personal information so people can continue to connect and build community around causes and issues they care about.
IBR: What are your thoughts on how legislators should approach regulation of Facebook and other technology companies?
KC: We are not waiting for legislation or regulation to do the right thing at Facebook. Take our efforts to ensure ad transparency as an example. We launched an ad transparency pilot in Canada in November 2017, which allows any Canadian user to see all the ads that a Facebook Page is running on the platform, regardless of whether that user is in the intended audience. This is a higher level of ad transparency than exists on any other platform, online or offline. We launched this first in Canada, before anywhere else in the world, not because there was imminent legislation, but because we wanted to bolster our election integrity efforts here. Of course, we would be pleased to work cooperatively with legislators in Canada and around the world on any legislation that impacts the digital economy.
IBR: Not all policymakers are familiar with relevant issues in technology, particularly given the pace of innovation in the field. How do you handle dealing with uninformed lawmakers?
KC: Technology is always changing and evolving, and I dedicate a lot of time towards informing and educating stakeholders, including policymakers, about new products and services, and about how the platform works.
IBR: Europe’s enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has mandated increased transparency surrounding consumer data. Do you envision North America following suit to give consumers more ownership over their data?
KC: Canada has a very robust privacy law in place, called the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). PIPEDA is a very interesting example of a third way between the U.S., where there is no national privacy framework, and Europe, where the GDPR is highly prescriptive. By contrast, PIPEDA is technology-neutral and principles-based. It protects people’s privacy while fostering innovation, and I think we should be proud of this made-in- Canada approach to privacy protection.
IBR: In your opinion, what constitutes ethical data mining?
KC: People should own their data, and be able to control what they share and with whom, period.
IBR: What is the greatest barrier to Facebook’s goal of “building a global community”?
KC: Building a global community is obviously challenging, given the many social, cultural, and economic forces that need to be navigated. From a technical point of view, two thirds of the world’s population is not connected to the Internet, which has enormous social and economic costs for people and societies. This is why our connectivity teams are working across dozens of countries to help overcome the global Internet connectivity challenges of accessibility, affordability, and awareness—with the hope that one day, everyone will have high-quality Internet access.
IBR: In addition to your role at Facebook, you are heavily involved with nonprofits and very civically engaged. How does your public policy experience help you in this regard?
KC: I feel very fortunate to be able to pursue my passion for public policy both in my work at Facebook, and with the nonprofits that I am involved with, including the boards of Kids Help Phone, MediaSmarts and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. In my work and in my personal life I am driven by the opportunity to have a positive impact in the lives of others.
IBR: Many Ivey students have limited experience with public policy. What advice would you give to these future business leaders?
KC: While you may not always see it or feel it, public policy touches every aspect of our lives. This is true for businesses, too. In order to be successful, future business leaders need to not only understand public policy, but take an active role in working with governments and civil society to achieve outcomes that are good for the country and good for the world.
IBR: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
KC: Take risks in life and in your career. You will grow so much, both personally and professionally, from the wonderful experiences you will have along the way.