Months after the international uproar over the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal which shed light on how the former clandestinely harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook user’s profiles and used the information for political purposes, Apple CEO Tim Cook launched into a blistering indictment of personal data by companies on October 24 and called for new digital privacy laws in the United States that would mirror that are already in place the EU.

Speaking at the 2018 International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, Cook warned that the trade in digital data has exploded into a “data industrial complex”, which is being “weaponised against us with military efficiency”.

“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” said Cook. “Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, which even undermines our shared sense of what is true and what is false,” added Cook, whose comments directly referred to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Apple Supports an American GDPR

Marking the first time the tech giant has come out with a full-throated endorsement of an American analogue of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, Cook enumerated how a US privacy regulation would ensure data minimisation, transparency, the right to access, and a right to security.

“We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive, federal privacy law in my country,” said Cook. “It is time for the rest of the world to follow your lead,” added the CEO from Brussels’ European Parliament seat.

According to Cook, companies should “challenge themselves” to de-identify customer data or not collect it in the first place, while at the same time guaranteeing that users know what data is collected on them. Cook was particularly forceful in his belief that companies should recognise that “data belongs to the users” and they should be given the right to correct and delete their personal data to guarantee their own personal security, which, as Cook explained, “is the foundation of trust and all other privacy rights”.

Privacy vs Progress

Cook shot down the often widely-held notion that companies are unable to achieve technology’s true potential if they are bound by privacy regulations, and suggested that the potential of any technology must be rooted in the faith people have in its reliability, saying, “It’s time to face facts,” Cook added. “We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it.”

Arguing that “advancing Artificial Intelligence by collecting data is not efficacy”, Cook reiterated his belief that new developments can be achieved without having to comprise privacy standards or cause irreversible damage to society as a whole.

“We see vividly, painfully, how technology can harm rather than help,” he continued, “This crisis is real. Those of us who believe in technology’s potential for good must not shrink from this moment”, he added, saying Apple hopes “to work with you as partners…Our missions are closely aligned.”