Gareth Lambe in­ter­view,

Face­book Ire­land chief Gareth Lambe talks about ex­pan­sion and reg­u­la­tion

The Irish Times - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Ciarán Han­cock Busi­ness Edi­tor

Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica was dis­ap­point­ing, there were a lot of learn­ings from it but it was all locked down many years ago and there were a lot of ac­tions fol­low­ing up. But it was a low point

We were dis­ap­pointed in some of the out­comes of that pro­gramme and there were clearly fail­ings in our sys­tems. But this space is very com­plex and dif­fi­cult

I think [so­cial me­dia] will frag­ment but I think we will still be very rel­e­vant to peo­ple. For a lot of peo­ple, it’s a scrap­book of their lives

The out­door ter­race at the top of Face­book’s in­ter­na­tional head­quar­ters in Dublin gives the so­cial me­dia gi­ant a bird’s eye view of Google’s of­fice blocks on nearby Bar­row Street, in­clud­ing its new ones at the for­mer Boland’s Mill site.

“Yes, I nor­mally have a te­le­scope here but I took that down,” Face­book Ire­land chief Gareth Lambe jokes as we take a whis­tle-stop tour of its funky of­fice, which houses about 2,200 em­ploy­ees and 94 na­tion­al­i­ties.

Face­book is set for pas­tures new fol­low­ing its an­nounce­ment on Thurs­day that it has se­cured agree­ment to lease the en­tire 14-acre Bank­cen­tre cam­pus in Balls­bridge, which AIB is va­cat­ing.

It’s a state­ment of Face­book’s long-term com­mit­ment to Ire­land, ac­cord­ing to Lambe, giv­ing it head­room to add an­other 5,000 roles to its Ir­ish work­force. It al­ready has 4,000 em­ploy­ees at two build­ings in Dublin, a data cen­tre in Clonee, Co Meath, and a lab in Cork.

“When com­pleted, [Balls­bridge] will have 870,000sq ft of of­fice space and there will be ca­pac­ity for 7,000 desks,” he says. “It’s a very long-term in­vest­ment and it gives us a lot of room for growth, and an abil­ity to plan strate­gi­cally.”

The cam­pus will be de­vel­oped over the next three years, with staff at Face­book and its sub­sidiaries mov­ing there over three phases, be­gin­ning in March or April next year.

Face­book started in Ire­land with a “land­ing team” of 30 in late 2008. Lambe says it is a “great coun­try to in­vest in”, although there are “risks in the fu­ture”. He cites hous­ing as the num­ber-one lob­by­ing item for the Amer­i­can Ire­land Cham­ber of Com­merce, where he is on the board of di­rec­tors. “The af­ford­abil­ity and scarcity of res­i­den­tial ac­com­mo­da­tion is some­thing that we’re wor­ried about. I’m con­fi­dent the Govern­ment has re­alised it’s a burn­ing plat­form and is do­ing ev­ery­thing it can, and this should loosen up in a few years. But it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that is a po­ten­tial risk to hir­ing in the fu­ture.

Di­rect ac­cess

“We will have our own di­rect ac­cess to Lans­downe Road Dart sta­tion and I’m hop­ing that the net will widen con­sid­er­ably for our em­ploy­ees in terms of places to live and there won’t be as much pres­sure on liv­ing in the city cen­tre.”

Tax is an­other is­sue high on the agenda of US multi­na­tion­als in Ire­land. Ear­lier this week, Euro­pean Union fi­nance min­is­ters failed to reach agree­ment on a Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pro­posal to im­ple­ment a 3 per cent dig­i­tal sales tax, a levy be­ing pushed by France.

It’s a mea­sure that could have neg­a­tive im­pli­ca­tions for Ire­land, given that a large num­ber of in­ter­net com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Face­book and Google, have their re­gional head­quar­ters here. The im­pact on our cor­po­ra­tion tax re­ceipts is es­ti­mated at about €160 mil­lion.

Ire­land op­poses the pro­posed levy, pre­fer­ring to wait for the out­come of an OECD process to agree a frame­work for tax­ing such ac­tiv­ity on a global ba­sis. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, Lambe sup­ports this ap­proach. “Our pref­er­ence is for the EU and all coun­tries to fol­low this OECD Beps [Base Ero­sion and Profit Shar­ing] project, which is a global ini­tia­tive co-or­di­nated as op­posed to uni­lat­eral smaller ar­range­ments,” he says. “Whether it re­sults in more tax, which it prob­a­bly will, it’s the planned and co-or­di­nated pre­dictable cer­tainty of it. In terms of Paschal Dono­hoe and Ire­land, I think he is right to re­sist this to help Ire­land Inc in terms of its at­trac­tive­ness.

“For us, we are [tax] com­pli­ant in all the coun­tries that we op­er­ate in and we will be whether it’s a dig­i­tal sales tax, OECD or what­ever.”

Lambe also notes that Face­book has moved to a “lo­cal sell­ing model”.

“In the Euro­pean coun­tries where we have a sales of­fice with em­ploy­ees, we are recog­nis­ing the rev­enue sold by those of­fices in those mar­kets so that tax in­come goes into the lo­cal mar­ket. It’s dif­fi­cult when there’s in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty as to where it should be [taxed]. That’s why the OECD [process] is im­por­tant.

“My own view is that we will end up pay­ing more tax in what­ever mech­a­nism is used and that’s fine. We just want to make sure it’s done in a planned and co-or­di­nated way.”

On our tour of the of­fice, we pass its newly up­dated “in­sights wall” (right), an in­ter­ac­tive map that shows Face­book ac­tiv­ity around the world. Lambe clicks on Ire­land and it tells us there are 2.8 mil­lion ac­tive monthly users here – 2.3 mil­lion daily.

Face­book’s big­gest mar­ket is no longer the United States (217 mil­lion monthly users, 166 mil­lion daily) but In­dia, where it has about 300 mil­lion users. Dur­ing the sum­mer, the In­dian govern­ment asked Face­book sub­sidiary What­sApp to act to pre­vent the spread of “ir­re­spon­si­ble and ex­plo­sive” mes­sages amid a spate of mob lynch­ings of strangers based around ru­mours of child kid­nap­pings.

It was just one of a num­ber of con­tro­ver­sies that Face­book has had to deal with in what Lambe de­scribes as a “tough year”. Ear­lier this year, it emerged that a data com­pany called Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica had used per­sonal in­for­ma­tion har­vested from more than 50 mil­lion Face­book ac­counts to build a sys­tem that could tar­get Amer­i­can vot­ers with po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing based on their in­di­vid­ual pro­files.

De­tails emerged via a whistle­blower con­trac­tor called Christo­pher Wylie, who helped build the al­go­rithm.

Face­book, which had known about the breach since 2015, took out ads apol­o­gis­ing for the breach. In April, Mark Zucker­berg was forced to go be­fore a pow­er­ful US Congress com­mit­tee to ex­plain Face­book’s role in this scan­dal.

“It was re­ally dis­ap­point­ing for all of us,” Lambe says. “It was my low­est mo­ment in Face­book. It was clear that we didn’t do enough up to 2014 to pro­tect our users’ data from ma­li­cious ac­tors.

“Since then, I’ve been re­ally pleased with the ac­tions we’ve taken. It’s good in the sense that it has us much bet­ter pre­pared for the next five to 10 years in terms of that un­der­stand­ing of the re­spon­si­bil­ity we have to make sure that stuff is much more but­toned-up.

“I’ve also been pleased with how we’ve col­lab­o­rated across the com­pany. We be­lieve we were best in class for GDPR [the EU’s Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion] when that came through [in May].

“Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica was dis­ap­point­ing, there were a lot of learn­ings from it but it was all locked down many years ago and there were a lot of ac­tions fol­low­ing up. But it was a low point.” At the Web Sum­mit this week, Wylie ac­cused the big tech com­pa­nies of colonis­ing our so­ci­ety. “As a very ac­tive player in the mis­use of the data in Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, I’m not sure Chris Wylie is who we should be look­ing to for guid­ance or in­spi­ra­tion,” Lambe says.

“What peo­ple tend to for­get is that we’re pro­vid­ing a re­ally use­ful ser­vice to the 2.3 bil­lion peo­ple on Face­book. We know we need to ex­plain bet­ter to them how it works, give them more con­trol over it. That’s a lot of our fo­cus.

“I think [more] reg­u­la­tion is com­ing down the road and we wel­come that. We’re try­ing to make sure it’s done in a way that fully un­der­stands the in­ter­net.”

Lambe says Face­book is “heav­ily reg­u­lated” by the Data Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion in Ire­land, which is re­spon­si­ble for over­sight of its EU ac­tiv­i­ties, given that it is based out of Dublin.

Many would ar­gue that the Ir­ish com­mis­sion does not have the nec­es­sary fi­nan­cial re­sources or staffing to reg­u­late the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar so­cial me­dia gi­ant but Lambe dis­agrees.

“Speak­ing from the in­side, work­ing with the data pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tor and hav­ing been in­volved in their au­dits, I can tell you that they are ex­tremely thor­ough with Face­book. But I do agree that they need a lot more re­sources, es­pe­cially post-GDPR for all the tech com­pa­nies . . . and we have also lob­bied the Govern­ment to in­crease in­vest­ment there. We would ab­so­lutely agree that they need to be staffed much more.”

Of course, to avoid a re­peat of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, Face­book could just ban po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. Lambe says its “not big money for us and would lead to a much eas­ier life” but “part of the power of Face­book for pos­i­tiv­ity and good is the so­cial move­ments that hap­pen on Face­book”.

Lambe says the “mas­sive changes and im­prove­ments” in­tro­duced by Face­book in re­sponse to the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal are work­ing. “I think we are go­ing to be fairly pleased with how these [US] midterm elec­tions have worked out . . . in terms of those re­me­di­a­tions we have set up.

“But this is never go­ing to be com­pletely erad­i­cated. It’s go­ing to be an arms race against well-re­sourced, smart peo­ple. We can’t do it on our own, we’re look­ing to part­ner with gov­ern­ments and se­cu­rity or­gan­i­sa­tions to get ahead of this.”

Face­book’s “mis­sion” is to “make the world more in­clu­sive and bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether”, he ar­gues. How­ever, the com­pany also stands ac­cused of pro­vid­ing a plat­form for cranks and ex­trem­ists to pro­mote hate speech. In July, the Chan­nel 4 pro­gramme Dis­patches re­vealed that Face­book mod­er­a­tors were in­structed not to re­move ex­treme, abu­sive or graphic con­tent from the plat­form even when it vi­o­lated the com­pany’s guide­lines.

The mod­er­a­tors were con­tracted from Ir­ish re­cruiter CPL. Vi­o­lent videos in­volv­ing as­saults on chil­dren, racially charged hate speech and im­ages of self-harm among un­der­age users all re­mained on Face­book af­ter be­ing re­ported by users and re­viewed by mod­er­a­tors.

Lambe says Face­book is con­duct­ing a “pretty in­ten­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion” with CPL. “Our en­force­ment teams as well as our pol­icy teams are con­duct­ing that with CPL at the mo­ment to see if we can iden­tify where there were any break­downs, where is the pol­icy and was there some mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion or mis­un­der­stand­ing of it, and if we need to take any ac­tion.”

The Ir­ish­man ex­pects that process to con­clude in the “next few weeks”. Will any­one be held ac­count­able? “I’m go­ing to wait for the out­come of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Cer­tainly, if there’s any break­downs or pro­cesses or train­ing, or if there was any ma­li­cious in­tent by any­one, of course we’ll act on that. I just don’t know the an­swers to that at the mo­ment. “Ob­vi­ously we were dis­ap­pointed in some of the out­comes of that pro­gramme and there were clearly fail­ings in our sys­tems. But this space is very com­plex and dif­fi­cult . . . there’s a lot of sub­jec­tiv­ity in things like free­dom of speech ver­sus hate speech, taste, of­fence – these things are very sub­jec­tive.”

What about CPL’s role? “There were def­i­nitely some com­ments made by some of the em­ploy­ees that weren’t true to our val­ues . . . and that was dis­ap­point­ing be­cause it gave an op­por­tu­nity to cast as­per­sions. But we have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause, at the end of the day, they are a part­ner of ours. The re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ues at the mo­ment but we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing that thor­oughly.”

Busi­ness plan­ning and sales oper­a­tions

Lambe has two roles with Face­book. He runs its busi­ness plan­ning and sales oper­a­tions for all re­gions out­side the US. In ad­di­tion, he heads up the Ir­ish unit, and sits on the boards of its var­i­ous com­pa­nies and sub­sidiaries.

He’s met Face­book founder Mark Zucker­berg a “few times” but doesn’t have one-to-ones with him. “My track on my func­tional role, be­cause it’s on the rev­enue side, would be more up to [chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer] Sh­eryl Sand­berg. This year, I’ve prob­a­bly met her two or three times.”

As we close, Lambe looks at the decade ahead and pre­dicts the likely shape of Face­book. “Face­book and so­cial me­dia started out as text-based, then it was about pho­to­graphs, and now it’s more about video. It will be­come pre­dom­i­nantly about video and vis­ual and much less text. We’re in­vest­ing heav­ily in vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity. We be­lieve that could be the next op­er­at­ing plat­form af­ter mo­bile. You’re prob­a­bly talk­ing about a 10 or 15-year time­frame where that be­comes main­stream.”

Will Face­book sur­vive that long? “We are still grow­ing tens of mil­lions of users ev­ery quar­ter. I think [so­cial me­dia] will frag­ment but I think we will still be very rel­e­vant to peo­ple. For a lot of peo­ple, it’s a scrap­book of their lives.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

Gareth Lambe, Face­book Ire­land.

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