Without naming names, Apple CEO Tim Cook took a shot at some of his rival tech companies for how they "gobble up" and use their customers' personal data for financial gain. Cook made his remarks during Tuesday's Electronic Privacy Information Center's 2015 Champions of Freedom Awards dinner.
Cook, who spoke via a remote video feed to attendees of the dinner in Washington, D.C., was one of the recipients of the organization's Champions of Freedom Awards. He is the first business leader to have received such recognition from the group.
Beware 'So-Called Free Services'
As reported by TechCrunch, Cook opened his remarks at the EPIC dinner by saying, "I'm speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be."
Cook criticized "so-called free services" that give tech companies access to users' e-mail addresses, search histories and "now even your family photos." That last reference appeared to have been directed at a new offering from Google, Photos, which was unveiled at its recent I/O 2015 developers conference.
Cook also directed critical remarks at some in Washington who are attempting to limit citizens' abilities to protect and encrypt their personal data. He noted that the backdoor access some officials are lobbying for leaves personal information vulnerable to both good guys and bad guys. "If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too," Cook said.
Crucial that 'Devices Do Not Betray Us'
That last comment reflects a sentiment that has been expressed by many experts in cybersecurity and encryption technologies. For example, Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and one of the hosts at the EPIC awards dinner, said after signing the letter sent to Obama, "I can't build a system where the good guys can eavesdrop and the bad guys can't."
While Apple has sometimes joined forces with other tech rivals to back stronger data security protections for individuals -- as it did by co-signing the letter to Obama along with other firms including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft -- Cook has also worked to distinguish his company from its rivals. For instance, Cook spoke at Obama's Summit on Cybersecurity in February, while the CEOs from Google, Facebook and Yahoo did not attend, opting instead to send their companies' information security executives to the gathering.
Cook said Monday that while Apple does work with law enforcement agencies in many areas, he believes some officials' efforts to weaken encryption "has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights."
In a statement from Privacy International, technologist Richard Tynan expressed mixed feelings about Cook's remarks.
"We are pleased to see privacy and security playing such a prominent role in the current device market," Tynan said. "It is encouraging to see Apple making the claim that they collect less information on us than their competitors. However, we have yet to see verifiable evidence of the implementation of these claims with regard to their hardware, firmware, software or online services. It is crucial that our devices do not betray us."
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Posted: 2015-06-03 @ 2:36pm PT
Apple may be collecting less information on us than its peers, but it is still collecting too much. An Apple ID is a necessity to download updates to Apple software, and it only comes at the price of revealing one's name, birthdate, and other personal information. Same with the AppStore. It seems that Apple's definition of privacy is "protecting your data so that our competitors can't access them", as opposed to "protecting your data so that you control who access them."