Apple’s CEO rails against the “data industrial complex”

Tim Cook was on fire in Brussels giving his October 24, 2018 keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC).  As reported by TechCrunch, Mr. Cook targeted Google and Facebook when he said: “Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. . . These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.”

He played to his appreciative EU audience when he said:  “We should celebrate the transformative work of the European institutions tasked with the successful implementation of the GDPR. . . . It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead. . . . [Apple] is in full support of a comprehensive, federal privacy law in the United States”.

Cook argued for a federal US privacy law that would prioritize four things:

  1. Data minimization — “the right to have personal data minimized” or not collect it in the first place;
  2. Transparency — “the right to know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for” to “empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t”;
  3. The right to access — given “data belongs to users” it should be made easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data; and
  4. The right to security — given “security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights”

According to Cook, the creation of extensive digital profiles “is surveillance.  And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them. This should make us uncomfortable.”

After he dropped his mic, Cook quickly went on Twitter to double down on his speech:

It is not clear how his obviously well-thought out position will ultimately impact Apple’s bottom line.  As previously observed, Apple has a natural symbiotic relationship with the social media platforms given “the smartphones that are the backbone of Apple’s success thrive in a social media environment where Facebook does exactly what it wants, namely provide “free” services that are habitually accessed throughout the day.”

Whether Cook is ultimately bluffing for PR points or believes his company’s lobbying can ultimately finesse any future legislative effort is beside the point.    The most powerful tech company in the world has just thrown down the gauntlet for a unified US privacy regime.  No different from the recently-enacted bipartisan anti-opioid abuse law, consumer privacy is a bipartisan issue so it is likely Congress will eventually come together to pick up Mr. Cook’s heavy glove.  And, for that Mr. Cook deserves another loud round of applause.