During a speech given at a privacy conference in Brussels on Wednesday, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook called for stricter digital privacy laws, saying consumers’ personal information is being "weaponized against us with military efficiency."
Cook, who didn’t specifically call out any major tech companies, said technology and the business of selling ads targeting to users has created a "data industrial complex” that is affecting individuals and entire societies.
"We shouldn't sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance,” Cook said in an impassioned keynote address at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC). “And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them. This should make us very uncomfortable. It should unsettle us."
Companies hoarding personal data
Although Cook didn’t mention Facebook or Google by name, his comments come on the heels of several massive data breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the information of 87 million users was “improperly shared” to profile voters.
"Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations. Our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams," Cook said. "These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold."
"Your profile is then run through algorithms that can serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into hardened convictions," Cook said.
Called for new privacy laws
Apple’s CEO praised the "successful implementation" of the EU’s new data privacy law, GDPR. He said U.S.-based companies should consider implementing similarly stringent privacy regulation laws.
“This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or crazy,” he said during the keynote, which can be viewed below. “And those of us who believe in technology's potential for good must not shrink from this moment.”
He said Apple would fully support the introduction of a “comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”
“There, and everywhere, it should be rooted in four essential rights," Cook added. Consumers should have the right to have personal data minimized, the right to knowledge, the right to access, and the right to security, he said.
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