Apple CEO challenges Obama

Apple CEO challenges Obama

Apple CEO Tim Cook made a bold pitch for his company's commitment to user privacy at a White House summit on Friday, taking implicit shots at Apple's Silicon Valley rivals as well as the federal government. 

In driving remarks directly preceding President Obama's, Cook described privacy online as a human right and linked it to the struggle for freedom for LGBT people. 

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"Too many people do not feel free to practice their religion or practice their opinion or love who they choose," said Cook, who is gay.

"In a world where that information can make the difference between life and death," he continued, "if those of us in positions of responsibility fail to do everything in our power to protect the right of privacy, we risk something far more valuable than money. We risk our way of life." 

Cook's remarks — part polemic, part sales pitch — were described as unusual for such a highly placed technology executive and help to position Apple as a privacy-friendly alternative to firms like Google and Facebook. 

While he did not mention Apple's rivals by name, nor criticism of Apple's own privacy record, Cook sought to differentiate the company from those that sell user data to boost revenue. 

"We don't sell advertisers information from your email content or your web browsing history," Cook told the audience at Stanford University. "We don't try to monetize the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud … We set the industry's highest standards and we are deeply committed to living up to them." 

The focus on privacy also served as a thinly veiled criticism of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as a move to court civil-liberties groups alienated by law enforcement's approach to privacy online. 

Cook's remarks were notable in part because he was one of the only top-tier technology CEOs to attend the summit, which focused on cybersecurity. 

The chief executives of Google, Yahoo and Facebook chose not to attend in a sign of tensions with the Obama administration over spying by the National Security Agency. 

The absence of other major tech brands gave Apple a broad platform to pitch its approach. The company will be partnering with the Obama administration on several initiatives, including enabling digital wallet service ApplePay for some payments to the federal government. 

Along with Intel, Bank of America and U.S. Bank, Apple also endorsed the Obama administration's cybersecurity framework, a set of standards for defending against risks online. 

Obama was scheduled Friday to sign an executive order laying the foundation for information-sharing on cyber threats between the government and private industry. 

Sectors like retail and banking support the move, which is designed to encourage Congress to approve legislation placing the Department of Homeland Security at the center of a public-private cyber information exchange. 

Cook did not mention information-sharing in his speech.

—This story was updated at 6:28 p.m. A previous version mistakenly repeated a phrase in one of Cook's quote.