Since a young age, George McDonald says he’s been “obsessed with fairness.”
Now, he is stepping into a newly created role with the Competition Bureau. As the bureau’s first chief digital enforcement officer, Mr. McDonald’s mission is to protect Canadians from deceptive marketing and fraud online.
“It’s making sure people aren’t being misled, and they’re getting a quality product or a quality service in the way that they would think they are," Mr. McDonald, who started in the role on July 2, said in an interview.
The federal agency’s mandate is to ensure Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace. With more goods and services being bought and sold online as opposed to in bricks-and-mortar stores, it’s imperative that the Competition Bureau be able to enforce the rule of law in those spaces as well as in physical ones, according to Mr. McDonald. To do this, he’s aiming to modernize the Competition Bureau’s tools and strategies to do its work more effectively in digital spaces. It’s about unethical technologies in contrast with ethical technologies.
“We’re looking to make sure those technologies are being used in the right ways, from a competition perspective, and not to give unfair advantage,” he said.
One example of unethical technology, he said, would be a robot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to put comments on a website attesting to how great a certain product is.
“So you might have 1,000 reviews on a website, and not a single one is done by a human,” Mr. McDonald said. “It’s really deceptive in its nature, and it’s designed to look real.”
An ethical use of AI, on the other hand, would be a chat robot that can help a customer make purchasing decisions, such as which jacket to buy for a ski trip, by pulling weather data from the mountain destination and comparing it against outerwear specifications.
Competition Bureau commissioner Matthew Boswell said part of Mr. McDonald’s job will be liaising with law-enforcement organizations worldwide to learn what kinds of tools they use to catch evidence of digital crime.
“We need to bring cases against the people that are breaking the law,” Mr. Boswell said. “In order to bring cases, you have to have the right tools to capture the evidence so you can present it in court.”
Mr. McDonald brings a background in analytics to the role, saying he likes “the puzzle that is the data.”
He wants to streamline the bureau’s processes and enable it to actively monitor for illegal activity in the digital sphere, rather than reacting when told about things that are suspect.
It’s important now, Mr. McDonald thinks, because “you’ve got companies that are bigger than they’ve ever been, and have more data than there’s ever been.”
He comes to the federal government from International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), where he was an associate partner and senior account leader, through the Interchange Canada program. It allows people in the private sector to work for the government for up to three years while keeping their old job and salary.
Mr. McDonald will stay with the Competition Bureau for up to two years, at which point the bureau will decide whether to appoint a permanent chief digital enforcement officer.
“If I can leave one thing behind, it’s a readiness in the team to shift with the digital economy,” he said.
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