In a speech to nonprofit research firm Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at its annual “Champions of Freedom” awards dinner last night, Apple head Tim Cook had some strong words about online security, government monitoring, and corporate data mining.
Cook was the first business leader to receive recognition from EPIC, which lauded his “corporate leadership” on matters of maintaining Apple customers’ privacy.
“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” said Cook, who addressed the EPIC event via remote. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Cook is referring (unsubtly) to companies like Facebook and Google, who provide free-to-use services that collect massive amounts of user data.
“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information,” Cook continued. “You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.”
The Apple chief also had some things to say about encryption and government monitoring, which came just a day before today’s Senate vote outlawing the NSA’s controversial “warrentless wiretap” program.
“If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too,” Cook said, citing government pressure for Apple to provide a “master key” that would officials bypass the company’s security measures.
With these statements and policies, Cook is hoping to place Apple on the right side of history. The paranoia and complacency that allows programs like the NSA’s to exist is falling out of style, with users showing increased interest in protecting their data from unchecked government monitoring. Companies like Google are as open as they can be about the encryption of its data, but still admits that underencrypted chat programs like Hangouts are susceptible to law enforcement mandates.
As officials, corporations, and the public struggle to establish the proper balance between security and privacy, the differences in public policy between Apple and its competitors becomes ever more pronounced. We’ll see if they stay that way, for good or ill.