Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a recent speech that today’s tech industry is hurting people and strong regulations are needed to protect user privacy. “We see vividly — painfully — how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” Cook told and international forum.

Cook had high praise for European countries for passing GDPR protections and called on the United States to enact “a comprehensive federal privacy law” consisting of at least 4 key planks:

  • The right to have personal data minimized. “Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data—or not to collect it in the first place,” Cook explained.
  • The right to knowledge. “Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham.”
  • The right to access. “Companies should recognize that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data.”
  • The right to security. “Security is foundational to trust and to all other privacy rights.”

The Apple boss also took aim at the companies that are profiting off the collection of user information, calling it a “data industrial complex.” He also warned of the privacy implications of mass data collection, and criticized technology and government leaders who downplay the negative impact on society today.

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. … Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile that lets companies know you better than you may know yourself,” Cook stated.

He lambasted some tech and government leaders saying that rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine a shared sense of what is true and what is false. Cook said, “This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or ‘crazy.’

The Apple CEO also commented on how Artificial Intelligence must respect human values, including privacy. Cook noted: “if we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. … We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It’s not only a possibility, it is a responsibility. In the pursuit of artificial intelligence, we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity, and ingenuity that define our human intelligence.”

Yes, but there is a caveat: The “data industrial complex” that Cook is referring to pays for much of the modern Internet, helping Google, Facebook, and many other tech companies target ads and while keeping their services free. So while Apple doesn’t have a big advertising business on its own, the company does collect billions of dollars each year from Google, for example, for making it the default search engine on iPhones, iPads and Macs.

The bottom line is this: Supporters of meaningful privacy regulations can count on Apple’s backing, as the company continues to try to stand apart from other tech giants, particularly Google and Facebook.


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