Tech sector will have to embrace regulation, warns Apple CEO

19 Nov 2018

Apple CEO Tim Cook taking a selfie on an iPhone with Trinity College Dublin students last year. Image: Laura Hutton/Shutterstock

The tide is turning against tech.

Mounting scandals around social media data leaks and political interference make regulation of the tech sector inevitable, Apple CEO Tim Cook has warned.

Cook said that the tide is turning against tech companies who until now believed they had the freedom to ‘move fast and break things’.

‘I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation. I think Congress and the administration at some point will pass something’

From the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year to alleged Russian interference and recent insights into social media giant Facebook’s alleged efforts to contain core privacy and security issues, it is becoming clear that regulation is coming.

In September, the UK’s telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, outlined a blueprint for regulating social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Google. It proposed that the operations of tech companies can be regulated in the same way as the mobile phone and broadband industry in the UK.

Tech tensions

“Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation,” Cook said from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. Cook was taking part in an interview by Axios on HBO.

“I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. And I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation. I think Congress and the administration at some point will pass something.”

Tensions between Apple and Facebook have been simmering for some time over the companies’ divergent approaches to privacy and security. The New York Times reported last week that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ordered his staff to only use Android phones after Cook criticised Facebook in an MSNBC interview for being a service that traffics “in your personal life”.

The likelihood of regulation is a reflection of how much tech now touches on people’s lives. Facebook’s various products reach 2.6bn of more than 7bn people on Earth, for example. Apple itself has run the gauntlet of ire from the FBI for refusing to unlock privacy settings in the iPhone in the wake of terrorism attacks in California.

Cook made his comment on regulation after talking about how tech companies often didn’t foresee the potentially nefarious use of their inventions. “Technology is good or evil, as you put it, depending upon the creator,” Cook said. “Many times, it’s not that the creator set out to do evil. It’s that there wasn’t an anticipation of these negative things that it could be used for.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years