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Tim Cook says tech's dark side is real

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Tim Cook. Photo: Apple

Today's tech industry is hurting people and strong regulations are needed to protect user privacy, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a speech in Brussels on Wednesday.

"We see vividly — painfully — how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies."
Tim Cook

Details: As promised, Cook praised Europe for passing its GDPR protections. He also called on the U.S. to enact "a comprehensive federal privacy law" consisting of at least 4 key planks:

  1. The right to have personal data minimized. "Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data—or not to collect it in the first place," Cook said.
  2. The right to knowledge. "Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham."
  3. The right to access. "Companies should recognize that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data."
  4. The right to security. "Security is foundational to trust and to all other privacy rights."

Cook also took aim at the companies that are profiting off the collection of user information, calling it a "data industrial complex." He warned of the privacy implications of mass data collection, and criticized tech and government leaders who downplay tech's negative impact on society.

Key quotes:

  • On the data industrial complex

"Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. ... Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile that lets companies know you better than you may know yourself."

  • On some tech and government leaders

"Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or 'crazy.'"

  • On how AI "must respect human values, including privacy"

"If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound. ... We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It’s not only a possibility, it is a responsibility. In the pursuit of artificial intelligence, we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity, and ingenuity that define our human intelligence."

Yes, but: The “data industrial complex” Cook refers to pays for much of the modern internet, helping Google, Facebook, and many other companies target ads and keep their services free.

  • While Apple doesn't have a big advertising business on its own, the company does collect billions of dollars from Google each year for making it the default search engine on iPhones, iPads and Macs.

The bottom line: Supporters of meaningful privacy regulations can count on Apple's backing, as the company continues to try to stand apart from other tech giants, particularly Google and Facebook.

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