Apple chief Tim Cook criticises Facebook privacy strategy

29 Mar 2018

Tim Cook at a Fortune event in 2017. Image: Vivek Prakash/Fortune Global Forum/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Apple’s Tim Cook says Facebook is beyond self-regulation.

Facebook’s reputation has taken a massive hit in recent days, as well as its relationship with users and advertisers.

Analyst Gene Munster told CNBC yesterday (28 March) that policy changes implemented by the company may “impact their advertising effectiveness”. Shares in Facebook plummeted more than 17pc from the close on 16 March to 20 March.

Cook takes aim at Zuckerberg

The impact on the company is still not fully apparent, but Apple CEO Tim Cook had some harsh words for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher. Cook took aim at Facebook’s business model and approach to privacy in the discussion.

‘I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that, probably, some well-crafted regulation is necessary’

Cook said in no uncertain terms that Facebook could not adequately monitor itself in terms of privacy: “I think the best regulation is no regulation, is self-regulation. However, I think we’re beyond that here.”

His remarks to Swisher echo the message he relayed at the China Development Forum in Beijing last week, where he said: “I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that, probably, some well-crafted regulation is necessary.”

According to Bloomberg, Cook added: “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike, and every intimate detail of your life – from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist.”

He said that Apple had been “worried for a number of years that people in many countries were giving up data probably without knowing fully what they were doing” and that these detailed profiles would lead to major public concern once an incident such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal occurred.

Apple is markedly different to other major tech firms such as Google and Facebook, which use customer data monetisation as a keystone of their business model, while the former focuses far more on hardware sales. Cook has been vocal for many years about the issues within the data monetisation space, describing certain platforms as “gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetise it”.

Cook told Swisher that Apple could theoretically “make a ton of money if we monetised our customer, if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.”

When asked about what he would do in Zuckerberg’s place, Cook responded: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Zuckerberg admits regulation could be possible

In an interview with CNN’s Laurie Segall, Zuckerberg responded to a question about outside regulation in an unexpected way: “I actually am not sure we shouldn’t be regulated. I think, in general, technology is an increasingly important trend in the world. I think the question is more, ‘What is the right regulation?’ rather than ‘Yes or no, should we be regulated?’”

Fast Company noted that while Cook has been vocal about Apple’s refusal to engage in the data monetisation economy, Facebook is the most widely used app on the iPhone and reached an 80pc penetration among app users.

Apple may require Facebook to make its data harvesting intentions clearer to users in the App Store – this could be a way to inform people in a more obvious way about what they are actually agreeing to.

Tim Cook at a Fortune event in 2017. Image: Vivek Prakash/Fortune Global Forum/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects