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Apple CEO Tim Cook Attacks ‘Data Industrial Complex,’ Backs Privacy Laws in Conference Keynote

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Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday warned that personal information is being “weaponized” and “has exploded into a data industrial complex.”

Speaking at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection & Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), Cook asked for a comprehensive new set of federal privacy laws in the United States.

“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said during a conference in Brussels, according to TechCrunch. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.”

“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 added. “This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich only the companies that collect them.”

As previously reported, Cook praised Europe for passing its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protections, while also calling on the United States to enact “a comprehensive federal privacy law” consisting of at least 4 key planks:

We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States. There, and everywhere, it should be rooted in four essential rights:

  1. First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data — or not to collect it in the first place.
  2. Second, the right to knowledge. Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham.
  3. Third, the right to access. Companies should recognize that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of…correct…and delete their personal data.
  4. And fourth, the right to security. Security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights.

Cook also appeared to lash out at large social media companies (without naming names) and their data-gathering operations, asserting that the data collected only serves to enrich the companies that collect it. He also suggested that some of these large social media companies openly endorse privacy reform in public, but privately resist said changes, warning of the privacy implications of mass data collection and criticizing tech and government leaders who downplay tech’s negative impact on society.

“We should celebrate the transformative work of the European institutions tasked with the successful implementation of the GDPR,” Cook explained. “We also celebrate the new steps taken, not only here in Europe but around the world — in Singapore, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand. In many more nations regulators are asking tough questions — and crafting effective reform. It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead.”

“In the pursuit of artificial intelligence, we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity, and ingenuity that define our human intelligence,” Cook said. “And at Apple, we never will.”

Cook’s comments come as tech companies such as Google and Facebook face increased scrutiny over their data-protection practices, including Facebook’s recent admission that the personal data of almost 30 million users was compromised. Watch Cook’s entire keynote speech in the video below.

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