Apple CEO Advocates for Privacy, Industry Responds

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In his keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) in Brussels yesterday, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, argued in favor of a federal data privacy law.

Praising the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR), Cook said that modern technology has created a "data-industrial complex" in which our personal information is "weaponized against us with military efficiency." Cook continued, emphasizing the deeply concerning issue that “these scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold,” and that the industry can no longer “sugarcoat the consequences.”

Pointing out the ways in which technology can actually harm, not help, Cook said, “Platforms and algorithms that promise to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust.” One key theme of the speech was that the misuse of our personal information doesn't affect just individuals but whole sections of society.

“Silicon Valley claims to be the arbiter of all that is good for us," said Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security, “but we know how that ends – badly. Social media cyber-insecurity is the “Unsafe at Any Speed” issue of our times."

“Tim Cook takes a break from virtue signaling to throw rocks at Google and Facebook because he wants to position himself and Apple as the good guys whilst the others are vulnerable,” Bastable continued. "His message is right, but Apple is also part of the problem. These players hold massive quantities of data, and we should never assume that they will ever have our best interests at heart."

Feelings about Apple aside, many agree that the message Cook's keynote is right. Noting that Cook’s comments echo the words of privacy advocates, who have long been pushing for regulations that protect consumers, Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech.comsaid, “We're already starting to see progress in the US along those lines, such as California's Consumer Privacy Act.

“And though I agree with him in most respects, I think it's important to put his words into context. Apple can ride a moral high horse when it comes to privacy because it does not primarily depend upon targeted advertising and the collection and sharing of personal data to make money. Most of its competitors do, namely Google. Advocating for privacy laws is a practical way for Apple to indirectly lobby against Google,” Bischoff said.

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