Tim Cook warns of dire consequences if we sacrifice privacy for security

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Tim Cook addresses the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Photo: White House
Apple CEO Tim Cook addresses the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Photo: White House

Silicon Valley’s top CEOs snubbed President Barack Obama’s appearance at Stanford University today for the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection, but Apple CEO Tim Cook used his invite to make the case for improving security.

Cook addressed attendees before Obama took the stage and reaffirmed Apple’s belief that everyone has a right to privacy and security. In part of his speech, the Apple CEO warned of “dire consequences” if the proper balance between security and privacy isn’t maintained.

“We must get this right!” Cook told the audience.  “History has shown us that sacrificing our right to privacy can have dire consequences.”

“We still live in a world where all people are not treated equally. Too many people do not feel free to practice their religion, or express their opinion, or love who they choose. We live in a world where that information can make the difference between life and death.”

In his address, Cook explained that we shouldn’t have to trade our security for information at our fingertips. “If those of us in a position of responsibility don’t do anything to protect every right of privacy,” he warned, “we risk losing something far more valuable than money. We lose our way of life.”

The White House invited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Google’s Larry Page to the event but all declined. Following his remarks, Obama signed an executive order that allows private tech companies to share cyber-threat data with government agencies and each other. The order comes just a week after one of the largest health insurers in the nation, Anthem, got hacked.

Cook also reiterated that Apple’s business model is to sell great products, rather than selling data to advertisers, because customers’ trust means “everything.”

“We know hackers are doing everything to steal data,” Cook said. “That’s why we’ve created the most secure devices we can.”