Apple’s Tim Cook: GDPR is needed, personal info is “being weaponized against us”

Credit: Illustration 90592983 © Andrey Suslov - Dreamstime.com

Apple CEO Tim Cook has warned that a massive trade in personal information “has exploded into a data industrial complex”. 

Cook, speaking at privacy commissioner’s conference in Brussels today, warned the data and privacy “crisis is real” and that ad-dependent tech companies collecting data are weaponizing it against us. 

“Our own information from the every day to the deeply personal is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said.  

“Every day billions of dollars change hands and countless decisions are made on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations, our wishes and fears.”  

“These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.  Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you know yourself.” 

This type of mass collection of user profiles should make people uncomfortable and amount to surveillance, Cook argued. 

Cook also gave a strong endorsement of Europe’s strict GDPR privacy regulations that came into effect this May, and called for similar US privacy laws be enacted at a federal level, noting momentum for better privacy laws in New Zealand, Singapore, and Brazil. The call for US privacy laws drew a round of applause from European privacy commissioners. 

Cook then laid out what solid legislation should include, which would effectively align US and EU laws:

  1. The right to have personal data minimized. Could should de-identify customer data or not collect it in the first place
  2. The right to knowledge, where users know what data is collected and what is being collected for. This is the only way consumers can know what collection is legitimate and what isn’t, said Cook. “Anything less is a sham,” he added.  
  3. The right to access, allowing consumers to get a copy of collected data, correct it, and delete it if they want. 
  4. And the right to security. 

Read more: Apple pushes devs to have macOS apps outside the App Store pass a security clearance

This follows Apple’s move to expand a set of self-service data privacy tools that it rolled out to Europeans shortly before GDPR came into effect. The privacy tools were extended last week to Apple ID users in Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Canada, offering a simpler and faster way to requests through Apple’s legal pages.   

The tools allows users to get a copy of data Apple has collected linked to an Apple ID, request Apple correct personal data, as all as data stored in iCloud, a record of purchases, as well as retail and support transactions.  

Cook also took a swipe at companies for justifying the collection of personal data to build artificial intelligence. 

“Advancing AI by collecting huge personal profiles is laziness, not efficiency,” he said. 

Read more: Google Project Zero drops macOS exploit, calls out Apple for silent patching

“For artificial intelligence to be truly smart it 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 is not only a possibility, it is a responsibility. In the pursuit of AI we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity, and ingenuity that defined our human intelligence. And Apple, we never will.”

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