Apple has long been an advocate for privacy and CEO Tim Cook has continued that since he took charge of the company. With privacy very much a hot-button topic as more and more companies collect ever-increasing amounts of our data, Cook gave a speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection & Privacy Commissioners, with that speech now available online in the form of a video.
Taking to the stage and giving what felt at times like an Apple product announcement keynote, Tim Cook spoke about why privacy is so important to Apple, and why it should be important to other technology companies, too.
Kicking the speech off, Cook noted that while technology can be used for good, there is also the potential for it to do harm, as we’ve seen in recent years.
These are transformative times. Around the world, from Copenhagen to Chennai to Cupertino, new technologies are driving breakthroughs in humanity’s greatest common projects. From preventing and fighting disease…To curbing the effects of climate change…To ensuring every person has access to information and economic opportunity.
At the same time, 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. 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.” And those of us who believe in technology’s potential for good must not shrink from this moment.
That tone continued throughout the speech, with Cook also speaking about how personal data is now traded by companies, with seemingly harmless scraps of data being amalgamated to create chunks of information that can be used by companies.
Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.
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… Our hopes and dreams.
These scraps of data – each one harmless enough on its own – are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold […]
We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.
Towards the end of the speech, Cook lent on Apple’s history of privacy while also quoting Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs.
At Apple, respect for privacy—and a healthy suspicion of authority—have always been in our bloodstream. Our first computers were built by misfits, tinkerers, and rebels—not in a laboratory or a board room, but in a suburban garage. We introduced the Macintosh with a famous TV ad channeling George Orwell’s 1984—a warning of what can happen when technology becomes a tool of power and loses touch with humanity.
And way back in 2010, Steve Jobs said in no uncertain terms: “Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain language, and repeatedly.”
Apple’s stance on privacy should be news to nobody, and while the appearance of an iPhone XR on-stage – in bright blue, no less – did feel like poorly placed advertising, the full speech is well worth a watch at just under 20-minutes. Make yourself a coffee and check it out in full.
(Source: European Data Protection Supervisor [YouTube])
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