Apple CEO Tim Cook warns Canada on privacy
Apple is preparing to introduce new privacy features across iOS, principally putting App Tracking Transparency tools in place to give users better control of their data and prevent apps and websites tracking them without express permission. Speaking exclusively to the Toronto Star, Apple CEO Tim Cook said taking these steps has been “somewhat controversial”, but also argues strongly that it’s completely appropriate to protect iOS users against such surveillance.
Apple’s ‘somewhat controversial’ fight for privacy
He rejects much of the criticism, saying “The only reason why you would push back is if you believe you’ll get less data. The only reason you would get less data is because people are consciously deciding not to do it and were not being asked before.”
Apple recently explained some of the many ways in which such data trackers are used to build remarkably detailed descriptions of people without their knowledge or permission.
“These companies know the location of the family’s house, the park they visited, the news websites they read, the products they browsed, the ads they watched, their purchasing habits, and the stores they visited.”
Cook also makes the analogy that these surveillance empires (the data industry is a $227 billion/year industry) are the digital equivalent of peeping toms watching you through your house window.
These trackers can find out too much about you, and you are not in control – and he’s confident the digital ads industry will continue to thrive. “The question is, do we allow the building of this detailed profile to exist without your consent?” Cook said.
You are the product
Gus Hosein, at Privacy International has said:
“PI’s investigations into data brokers and ad tech companies reveal a complex, fast-growing industry that is opaque to the average user. Where there is a lack of transparency, exploitation thrives. Invisible and gratuitous data collection leaves users unable to exercise their rights and protect their privacy.”
The Apple CEO warns that if untrammelled tracking and surveillance is permitted to continue people will begin to moderate their online behaviour and limit their expression.
“That narrow world is not one that any of us should aspire to live in,” he said.
Cook also confirms his belief that regulation of the digital ads, social and privacy space is required.
Speaking at a recent privacy conference, Cook also said:
“The fact is that an interconnected ecosystem of companies are purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division, of trackers and hucksters just looking to make a quick buck, is more present in our lives than it has ever been.
“And it has never been so clear how it degrades our fundamental right to privacy and our social fabric. As I’ve said before, if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.”
The time is now
The CEO told shareholders in 2021, “I have always believed the time to speak out is when you have something to say”, when he also stressed his belief that laws to protect the fundamental right to privacy should be introduced worldwide.
“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.
“Too many are still asking the question, ‘how much can we get away with?,’ when they need to be asking, ‘what are the consequences?’”
You may also want to explore a pair of privacy guides I created at Computerworld: