Apple's Tim Cook rips ‘data industrial complex,’ backs privacy laws

Apple's Tim Cook rips ‘data industrial complex,’ backs privacy laws
© Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday called for stricter laws protecting internet privacy, taking shots at tech platforms like Facebook and Google that specialize in collecting user data and employ algorithms that can “magnify our worst human tendencies.”

"Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said during a conference in Brussels before Europe’s privacy regulators.


"Scraps of personal data are collected for digital profiles that let businesses know users better than they know themselves and allow companies to offer users increasingly extreme content that hardens their convictions,” Cook added. “This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich only the companies that collect them."

His comments come as tech companies such as Google and Facebook face increased scrutiny over their data-protection practices following a string of data privacy scandals in recent months.

As controversy and scrutiny have engulfed the internet companies over their data practices, Cook has been keen to distance Apple from the scandals, highlighting how his company's business practices are distinct from other Silicon Valley giants.

In recent months, he has repeatedly emphasized that Apple collects very little data about its users and taken swipes at Facebook and its CEO, Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergBipartisan attorneys general urge Facebook to scrap planned Instagram for kids Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' Oversight Board achieving what government cannot MORE. When asked in a recent interview how he would have responded to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that was surrounding Facebook at the time, Cook said, "I wouldn't be in this situation."

Cook on Wednesday praised Europe for enacting data privacy measures, and he called on the United States to take similar action.

His comments were delivered before an audience of European Union member countries’ data regulators who are tasked with carrying out the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the sweeping new privacy standard enacted earlier this year. The law requires companies to be transparent about how they use personal data, and it forces them to give users more control over their own information. And it carries the threat of hefty fines. Regulators can hit companies with penalties of up to 20 million euros (about $22.8 million) or 4 percent of a company's yearly revenue, whichever is higher.

“In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions," Cook said. "It is time for rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead.”

The EU enacted the GDPR earlier this year. The law requires companies to be transparent about how they use personal data, and it forces them to give users more control over their own information.

“We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” he added.

Congress is currently mulling over privacy legislation in the wake of the passage of a tough new state law in California that cracks down on data collection.

Tech companies and their lobbying groups in Washington have backed the effort to pass a federal standard, partly out of a desire to prevent states from passing their own regulations of data collection.

A number of Silicon Valley giants have released frameworks in recent months outlining what they would like to see in any legislation that comes before Congress, but none of them go as far as some of the principles outlined by Cook on Wednesday.

He said that websites need to minimize the amount of data they collect from their users and be fully transparent about how that information is being used.

“Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for,” Cook said. “This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn't. Anything less is a sham.”

— Michael Burke contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:53 p.m.