Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, took the stage as the keynote speaker at the 40th International Conference on Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels on Oct. 24 and voiced his concerns about the recent online privacy scandals that have been hitting his Silicon Valley neighbors.
In his speech, Cook worried about the way that companies like Google and Facebook are collecting private information about their users. He believes that these major companies are trying to use the information they collect against their users with an efficiency that rivals that of the military.
Although Cook did not call out Google or Facebook by name, he made strong references to certain business practices for which the online giants are infamous. Namely, Cook does not support companies that use the personal data of their users to sell ads, thereby taking an active role in the “data industrial complex.” In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Cook stated this assertion in a slightly different way. While he has no problem with the type of digital advertising Google and Facebook use, he believes that giving advertisers access to the deep digital profiles of users is going too far.
In that same interview, Cook gave vocal support to creating comprehensive internet privacy law in the United States. According to NBC News, Cook also threw his support behind legislation in the U.S. as he commended the steps that have been taken in Europe. The General Data Protection Regulation was enacted by the European Union in May 2018. The regulation states that every resident of the 28 member states in the EU have the right to ask for a copy of the data that companies collect or to ask to have it erased. If a company discovers a breach in data privacy, they must report it within 72 hours or else they will face financial penalties that cut into their annual global turnover.
As Cook denounces the practices of two of the biggest names in the online community, he is positioning Apple on the other end of the privacy protection spectrum. As the Cambridge Analytica scandal rocked Facebook and recent news of a data leak in Google Plus caused U.S. Senators to question Google’s practices, Apple has been touting the importance of personal privacy.
According to Cook, online privacy is a basic human right and Apple has taken a strong stance against data collection for years because of that. In 2016, authorities from the FBI asked Apple to unlock an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting. Apple declined to cooperate with the federal agency, maintaining that customer privacy was one of their core values.
More recently, Apple has created more privacy controls for users, including secure password management. The tech leader has also revamped the intelligent tracking feature on Safari, which allows users to surf the internet without companies tracking them. With these measures and outspoken support for policies that restrict data collection practices in all companies, including those outside of the tech field, Apple is quickly positioning itself as a champion of online privacy.