Apple CEO Slams Internet Giants Ahead of New Privacy Features

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not choices at all, then it doesn’t deserve our praise, it deserves reform,” Tim Cook said.

Bloomberg News

January 28, 2021

3 Min Read
CEO Apple IncView the full profile Photo Justin SullivanGetty Images

(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook lambasted tech giants for “data exploitation” and called for reform around the practices of selling user data to target ads.

The iPhone maker is rolling out new privacy features that restrict how mobile apps such as those from Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google gather data about users to target ads.

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not choices at all, then it doesn’t deserve our praise, it deserves reform,” Cook said Thursday at the online Computers, Privacy & Data Protection Conference.

Without naming specific businesses, Cook criticized companies’ algorithms for perpetuating the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories, saying “we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that all engagement is good engagement.”

The Apple CEO also reiterated calls for a U.S. privacy law much like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. He said it’s time for “worldwide laws and new international agreements that enshrine the principle of data minimization, user knowledge and data security around the globe.”

Following an update to Apple’s iPhone and iPad operating system software this spring, users will be prompted to explicitly permit or deny developers the ability to track their data across apps or websites.

It’s expected many consumers will choose not to allow this, making it harder for apps to show users ads based on their past online activity, drawing the ire of Facebook and other advertising companies that rely on such abilities.

In full-page newspaper ads in December, the social network attacked Apple over the plans, saying the features would hurt small businesses and on Wednesday, Facebook told analysts the iOS changes could curb its revenue growth. A group of French online advertisers last fall filed an antitrust complaint against Apple, warning publishers’ ad revenue could plunge by as much as 50% as result of the update.

Apple says the features will give users more transparency about how their data is used, and in a way that still enables advertising.

The remarks come after Apple on Wednesday issued a cautious outlook for its wearables and services sales, despite posting quarterly revenue that topped $100 billion for the first time. The company also published a separate report detailing how companies track user data across websites and apps, alongside quotes from privacy advocates supporting Apple’s new measures.

The Apple CEO last spoke at a Brussels privacy conference in 2018, when he lashed out at Facebook and other Silicon Valley competitors that collect user data, equating their services to “surveillance.”

Since then, the regulatory situation for Apple in Europe has only darkened. Apple faces EU antitrust investigations concerning its app store and payments system and, along with other tech giants, a threat of steep fines and business break-ups loom as part of legislation proposed by the European Commission in December. It’s also facing lawsuits in several European countries over misleading claims about the battery life of older iPhones.

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