Apple chief targets 'weaponization' of customer data

Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the European Union's privacy conference in Brussels. Yves Herman Reuters

Among the major topics: potential benefits and repercussions of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, enacted in May by the European Union, which is meant to give consumers more control over their personal information that's collected by tech companies.

"In many jurisdictions, regulators are asking tough questions".

Cook, who made no reference to his company's recent well-publicised tax issues with the European Commission, said, "It is now time for the rest of the world, including my own country, the United States, to follow the EU's lead".

Speaking at an worldwide conference in Brussels on data privacy, Cook applauded European Union authorities for bringing in a strict new data privacy law in May, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Technology companies have been concerned about strict and varying state-level privacy laws in the United States, such as the one signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown earlier this year that goes into effect in 2020. Companies that break the law risk harsh financial penalties.

He added the trade in personal information "has exploded into a data industrial complex". Despite Tim Cook and Apple's efforts to show themselves as a company that value privacy and data of their users, the company has bent its back multiple times to meet the demands of the Chinese government just to ensure it is able to continue doing business in what is an incredibly important market for the company.

Cook also laid out four core principles for data protection: Companies should avoid collecting data, or de-couple data from personally identifiable information, when possible; users should be aware of the data that is being collected on them; companies should give users tools to move and delete their data; and personal data should be kept secure. Every day, we work to infuse the devices we make with the humanity that makes us. "It should unsettle us". Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for.

In June Apple declared that it would halt the data gathering activities by the likes of Facebook with the release of new versions of its iOS and Mac operating systems. Cook's appearance "is going to have good currency", with officials, he added.

On the artificial intelligence front, Cook took less of a detailed policy position, but was no less strong in warning that the technology should not become an enemy of the people and that privacy should be paramount in its development. Apple plans to expand it worldwide.

"We shouldn't sugarcoat the consequences, this is surveillance". "We've been working for years to provide more transparency and control for our users, and we appreciate the input and partnership from data protection authorities".

Apple CEO Tim Cook wasn't pulling any punches when it came to calling out his competitors at a major privacy convention in Brussels. However, this comes with increased risks for misuse of personal information.

GDPR also allows for big fines benchmarked to revenue, which for big tech companies could amount to billions of dollars.

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