During a keynote speech Wednesday at the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Brussels, Apple CEO Tim Cook called for proper data protection rights in the United States and reminded everyone how sweeping many internet companies’ data collection practices are.
“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said.
Without naming any companies, Cook explained how Apple’s competitors — like Google and Facebook — collect tiny pieces of data for use with their ad networks.
“Taken to its extreme, this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself,” he said. “We shouldn’t sugar coat the consequences. This is surveillance.”
In March, user privacy issues gained mainstream attention when an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee blew the whistle on Facebook’s data practices. The firm worked with Facebook to gain a vast amount of personal information about users and their friends through a personality quiz. The firm, which had a role for the Trump campaign, was able to use the personal data it obtained to target voters. Facebook does not consider this a hack or data breach — according to the company, users consented to having their data handed over.
Apple has been outspoken about privacy issues all throughout Facebook’s struggles with privacy scandals as well as before. In 2016, the FBI demanded that Apple help it get into an iPhone left behind by one of two California shooters who together killed 14 people and then themselves in 2015. Apple refused the FBI’s request, saying creating an iPhone master key could set a dangerous precedent. Along with the ramifications of government being able to access any iPhone, creating a backdoor into the device could never be undone, making all iPhones a little less safe.
The privacy issues Cook describes in his keynote speech are much more mundane. Most people won’t have to worry about the FBI trying to open up their phone, but Cook’s description of our data being weaponized against us is true for many internet users, even ones who were never on services like Facebook to begin with.