Dec 1, 2022 - Technology

Tim Cook's damage-control day on Capitol Hill

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Capitol Hill, leaving a senator's office

Apple CEO Tim Cook leaves Sen. John Thune's office in the Capitol on Thursday. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Amid an onslaught of criticism from Republicans and Big Tech rivals, Apple CEO Tim Cook met with lawmakers on Thursday to try to shore up support on Capitol Hill.

The big picture: Tech's leaders are beginning to take stock of a new political landscape in Washington as Republicans prepare to take over the House and ready hearings to spotlight what they see as biased treatment at Big Tech's hands.

Driving the news: Some lawmakers have criticized Apple for an update to its AirDrop feature on phones in China last month that could make it harder for protesters to share video.

  • The company says the update, which turns off the ability to AirDrop anyone outside of a user's contact list after ten minutes, is for security purposes and will be rolled out globally.

What they're saying: "I told [Cook] we want an American company to be everywhere. And we understand that, that means they're going to be operating in places that don't share our values," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Axios in an interview in the Capitol. "But that they still have to represent our values, and they should never be an instrument for the suppression of dissent."

  • Schatz said Cook told him that the AirDrop changes are meant to boost security.

On the Republican side, Apple remains suspect for App Store rules that lawmakers say unfairly block conservatives and the apps they prefer.

  • Cook arrived in D.C. after settling (for now) a brawl with Twitter owner Elon Musk over App Store fees.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he and Cook spoke about China, Section 230 and the need for greater encryption and security in tech.

  • "There was recent news on Tim Cook and Elon Musk coming to an understanding but we need more than an understanding," he told Axios. "We need assurances that their platform will not exclude people based on their own ideology. That's what I asked for, and I received it," he said.
  • "[I got] assurances that he would not have a thumb on the scale, and specifically that he would be Switzerland. That assurance was very meaningful to me... When someone promises to be Switzerland, it's fairly easy to hold them accountable if they deviate off."

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who will soon take the reins of the House Judiciary committee, told Axios his meeting with Cook was "very good" and they spoke about the "AirDrop issue" and the "App Store issue."

  • "We got very good feedback on all of those," Jordan said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

What's next: Apple, like its rivals, will have to appeal to both parties carefully moving forward, with unease growing over its dealings in China and antitrust action by regulators still a possibility.

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