Apple’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is warning the world against the “weaponisation of personal data,” in a speech he gave in Europe.
Speaking in Brussels, at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, Cook warned that technology’s promise to drive breakthroughs that benefit humanity is at risk of being overshadowed by the harm it can cause by deepening division and spreading false information. “Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said.
Scraps of personal data are collected for digital profiles that let businesses know users better than they know themselves and allow “companies to offer users increasingly extreme content that hardens their convictions,” Cook said. He added the trade in personal information “has exploded into a data industrial complex.”
He warned that the situation "should make us very uncomfortable, it should unsettle us".
The strongly-worded speech was an emphatic statement on which side of the user privacy rights debate Apple stands on. Apple has erred on the side of defending personal data by creating their hardware and software in such a way that they cannot be accessed by third parties such as law-enforcement agencies even during legitimate investigations.
Cook also praised the European Union's new data protection regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which has instituted sweeping changes to personal data protection and made the heads of tech companies liable for breach of data.
Cook’s comments are especially relevant in light of the massive breaches social media giant Facebook has faced of its users’ data – through apps using its platforms and otherwise. A lot of these users are in the U.S. and have also been targeted by Russians during the various elections since 2016.
Tim Cook hence called for data law reform in the U.S. and abroad, “In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions. It is time for rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead,” Cook said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google head Sundar Pichai were also scheduled to address the annual meeting of global data privacy chiefs through video conference. Both these companies have generated massive revenue streams using the data of billions of their users.
Only Cook attended the conference in person. He has repeatedly said privacy is a “fundamental human right” and vowed his company wouldn’t sell ads based on customer data the way companies like Facebook do.