Tim Cook took aim at Facebook during his speech at a European data privacy conference on Thursday (January 28, 2021). While he didn’t name the social media giant by name, he told CPDP2021 that “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.”

Facebook Business Model Could “Cause a Social Catastrophe”

Mr. Cook linked such a business model with real-world violence such as that seen on Capitol Hill earlier this month. “It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t cover the costs of polarization, of lost trust, of violence,” he said. “A social dilemma cannot be allowed to cause a social catastrophe.” Mr. Cook also issued warnings about such business models helping to spread disinformation as the world rolls out COVID-19 vaccines.

At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good and the longer the better.

Discussing his own company, 9to5 Mac reported that Mr. Cook said:

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.

The comments come at a time of increasing tension between the two tech giants. Facebook CEO used his firm’s earnings on Wednesday to hit out at Apple. He is also reportedly working on bringing an antitrust case against Apple to court.

Apple Posts Full Tim Cook Speech

Apple posted Mr. Cook’s speech to CPDP 2021 on its YouTube channel on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Watching it, there can be little doubt that Facebook was his target.

Aside from the quotes above, the Apple CEO said some other notable things. He raised concerns about losing “our freedom to be human,” and praised Europe’s GDPR for being “an important foundation for data privacy rights around the world.” Talking about increasing data collection and tracking he warned:

The end result of all this is you are no longer the customer. You are the product.

Apple’s privacy lead Jane Horvath appeared on a panel following Mr. Cook’s speech.

[Updated February 3 – Video and ‘Apple Post Full Tim Cook Speech added. Earlier quote corrected from “deserves scorn” to “deserves reform.” Article image updated]

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