Tim Cook calls for GDPR-like laws in US to combat ‘data industrial complex’

24 Oct 2018

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking at the Fortune CEO Initiative 2018 Annual Meeting in June 2018. Image: Fortune Photo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Apple CEO Tim Cook wasn’t pulling any punches when it came to calling out his competitors at a major privacy convention in Brussels.

In the 40th edition of the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC), Apple CEO Tim Cook aimed to distance his company from much of Silicon Valley by suggesting the latter should be a lot more like Europe.

According to TechCrunch, Cook, speaking as part of his keynote, said the entire tech industry should “celebrate” the work of the EU to introduce GDPR, saying: “It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow your lead.”

While a growing joint legal effort is being made by the biggest Silicon Valley companies to introduce GDPR-like laws in the state of California, at least, Cook still didn’t refrain from indirectly casting aspersions on Apple’s rivals, including Google and Facebook, for the use of “weaponised data”.

Cook has since listed on his Twitter page four priorities he is looking for from US privacy legislation.

‘We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences’

He said that the mass collection of consumer data from internet use and the devices sold has resulted in a “data industrial complex” forming with “military efficiency”.

Cook warned: “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesised, traded and sold. Taken to the extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself. Your profile is a bunch of algorithms that serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into harm.”

Doubling down on this thought, he added: “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance.”

Another of his talking points involved artificial intelligence (AI) and how it plays a role in data collection, warning that its use for collecting huge amounts of information to create a profile on someone is just “laziness”. It can only progress, he added, if AI is coded with a respect for human values, especially privacy.

This sense of not doing enough for the sake of privacy was set up prior to Cook’s keynote by the EU’s data protection supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, who challenged the idea that we might seek technological progression at the expense of human decency.

“We need to ask whether our moral compass been suspended in the drive for scale and innovation,” he said. “At this tipping point for our digital society, it is time to develop a clear and sustainable moral code.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking in June 2018. Image: Fortune Photo/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic