Apple CEO slams Silicon Valley rivals over user data


BRUSSELS • Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook lashed into companies like Google and Facebook Inc that collect user data, equating their services to “surveillance” as he touted the importance of privacy and legislation to protect it.

The comments, given at an EU privacy conference in Brussels yesterday, come months after the bloc implemented strict new data protection rules and as Apple begins to mend a difficult relationship with the EU following a clash over €13 billion (RM61.72 billion) in allegedly unpaid taxes.

In some of his harshest rebukes of his competitors yet, Cook sought to distinguish the iPhone maker from Silicon Valley competitors, like Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook, both under scrutiny for recent user data breaches.

“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences,” he said yesterday. “This is surveillance and these stockpiles of data serve only to make rich the companies that collect them. This should make us uncomfortable.”

Cook has previously criticised the companies for basing their business models on harvesting personal information for advertising, while highlighting that Apple tries to collect as little of it as possible.

“We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right, but also recognise that not everyone sees it that way,” Cook said, referring to his competitors. “The desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new.”

Cook also reiterated calls for federal privacy laws in the US similar to those unveiled in Europe, called the General Data Protection Regulation.

In the wake of those new rules, regulators and lawmakers in Europe and the US have trained their eyes on Facebook and Google, particularly following revelations of potential user privacy violations.

Facebook in September reported a cyber-attack that affected 30 million people, with hackers stealing intimate user information, including search results, recent locations and hometowns, in many cases.

And after keeping quiet for months, Google in October said it found a “software glitch” in its Google+ social network in March that could have exposed the personal data of as many as half a million users.

Despite criticising their companies, Apple indirectly benefits from that business. Google will pay Apple as much as US$9 billion (RM42.73 billion) this year for its search engine to be the default on many parts of the iPhone and other Apple devices, Goldman Sachs Group Inc estimates.

Apple has been in the headlines recently for security issues of its own following a Bloomberg report that Chinese spies used a microchip to infiltrate the computer networks of almost 30 US companies, including Apple and Amazon. com Inc.

Apple has vehemently disputed the report and said its servers weren’t compromised.

In an interview with Buzzfeed News published last week, Cook called on Bloomberg to retract the story. Bloomberg in response said it stands by the story and is confident in the reporting and sources.