Apple CEO Tim Cook pushes hard for US data privacy law reform

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple at the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Aris Oikonomou / AFP/Techhnews

Apple CEO Tim Cook made a passionate speech about data privacy at the European Parliament on Wednesday, in which he said he was in support of a “comprehensive federal data privacy law” in the US.

Cook praised the effective data privacy regulation enforced in the EU and other countries around the world. “It is up to us, including my home country, to follow your lead,” he said. “Fortunately we have your example before us.”

Cook was speaking at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners during a trip to Europe, where he also spent time in France. He used the opportunity to speak about Apple’s longstanding commitment to privacy, and call for changes to the law in the US that mimic strict new privacy regulations, known as GDPR, introduced in the EU this May.

He outlined how he imagined the law in the US taking shape, with four key points:

  • Minimizing and anonymizing all data collected.
  • Full transparency that gives users a clear picture about what data is being collected. “Anything less is sham,” he said.
  • Giving users the right to access, edit and delete that data.
  • Giving them the right to have data stored securely.

“We at Apple believe privacy is fundamental human right but we also recognize that not everyone sees it that way,” said Cook. He spoke of how rogue actors and even governments can undermine people’s sense of what is true and what is false. “This crisis is real, it is not imagined or exaggerated or crazy,” he said.

Without naming names, he also appeared to hit out at large social media companies and their endless data-gathering operations.  The large amount of data collected, he said, serves only to enrich the companies that collect it. Both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg are due to address the conference via video message on Wednesday afternoon. Cook suggested that some large companies endorse privacy reforms in public, but then resist change behind closed doors.

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us every day.” said Cook. “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences — this is surveillance. This should make us very uncomfortable, it should unsettle us.”

Cook also touched on his own preoccupation with AI, saying that it was vital that the emerging technology was designed with human values, including privacy, at its heart. “If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound,” he said.

Cook acknowledged the role that the iPhone played for putting huge amounts of data on the internet and in people’s pockets, and said that he took the responsibility seriously. There has long been pressure on Apple to bend its value and share information, but the company has held strong and refuses to trade the “precious cargo” that is customer data, he said. “We’re not willing to leave our users to fend for themselves and we’ve shown we will defend them, we will defend our principles when challenged.”

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