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Tim Cook promotes ‘ethical technology’ during EU data protection conference

The European Union’s data protection conference, the CPDP, kicks off today. As such, a range of notable figures in the technology and data industries are due to have some input. And that includes Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, who provided the opening keynote speech.

And, as such, Cook had a lot to say about the current state of affairs as far as data and privacy are concerned. Which shouldn’t be surprising. Cook has used his position at Apple to promote user privacy and data security, as it’s one of the core elements of the company’s business model. Cook has also not been shy about calling out other business models that may do the complete opposite, and he did so today, too.

And he didn’t mince words, either. Cook’s comments regarding the aggregation and selling of personal data are striking, to say the least, equating it to losing “the freedom to be human”.

As I’ve said before, if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.

This feels like something Facebook‘s CEO might not appreciate hearing.

Cook does make a note that advertising hasn’t always relied on digging into the personal lives of people, or selling off data. It was lucrative before it resorted to burrowing into the personal lives those same advertisers were trying to reach.

Cook said reform for the businesses that exploit data should be what happens, not praising them:

If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.

And finally, Cook spoke about “ethical technology”, and says that Apple chose this route “a long time ago”. Cook believes technology should help you sleep, rather than keep you up. Technology should be a means to create, and not simply be a thing we refresh “one more time”.

At Apple, we made our choice a long time ago. We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you. It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up. It tells you when you’ve had enough, it gives you space to create, or draw, or write or learn, not refresh just one more time. It’s technology that can fade into the background when you’re on a hike or going for a swim but is there to warn you when your heart rate spikes or help you when you’ve had a nasty fall. And with all of this, always, it’s privacy and security first, because no-one needs to trade away the rights of their users to deliver a great product.

You can check out Cook’s opening speech in the video above.

Apple’s Jane Horvath weighs in

In the same video posted today, Apple’s senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, also shared some comments and talking points. She took part in a roundtable discussion, and she fielded questions regarding Google’s position as the default search engine on iPhones, among other topics.

Horvath questioned whether users should “continue with the current norm which involves a privacy trade-off, providing unlimited personal data in order to enjoy free services”, and noted that Apple believes this is a “false dichotomy”. Basically, that users shouldn’t be forced to have to make that choice to begin with. Horvath believes we’re at an “inflection point” as far as user privacy is concerned.

Horvath also touched on Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which is set to launch this spring. She says that Apple is drilling it down to the user’s preference. Allowing users to choose whether or not they want to be tracked.

She adds:

Think of it this way: Isn’t it odd that some people don’t want users to have the choice over whether or not they are tracked with a clear and precise language? This is very important. Developers should not try to take steps to ignore the user space, if the user asked not to be tracked.

Apple says the ATT feature is something they won’t ignore, either. It’s not just for everyone else. Horvath does note, though, that Apple uses its own privacy-focused ad network, and, as a result, the company isn’t aware of which ads a user is served.

You can check out Horvath’s portion of the opening day of the conference just above.

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