Data Privacy

Is Tim Cook’s call for a US GDPR Apple’s watershed moment on privacy?

A recent rallying cry for a US equivalent of the EU’s GDPR privacy law by Apple CEO Tim Cook  is a radical move from the head of one of the world’s biggest tech giants.

In the speech, to the European Parliament, he made clear that Apple sees the GDPR as a fundamental technology building block, resetting the internet in a much-needed and very positive way.

And now he wants to see more laws worldwide – including in the US – operating under the same core principles, with the same aims of greater personal data privacy, wherever people live.

He said, that in these  “transformative times”, where new technologies are making breakthroughs throughout the world including in the preventing and fighting of disease,  we have also all come to “see vividly — painfully — how technology can harm rather than help…those of us who believe in technology’s potential for good must not shrink from this moment.”

He said that everyone, from government leaders to ordinary citizens, needs to ask themselves the fundamental question of what world they want to live in.

He said: “At Apple, we are optimistic about technology’s awesome potential for good. But we know that it won’t happen on its own. Every day, we work to infuse the devices we make with the humanity that makes us.

“As I’ve said before, technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us…

“…We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. But we also recognise that not everyone sees things as we do. In a way, the desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new.”

He pointed out that the Right to Privacy in the US goes back to an article in the Harvard Law Review in 1890, by future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, adding: “Today that trade has exploded into a data industrial complex. Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponised against us with military efficiency.

“Every day, billions of dollars change hands and countless decisions are made on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations, our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams.

“These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesised, traded and sold.”

He said that, taken to the extreme, this creates “an enduring digital profile” where companies know us better than we know ourselves.

These “stockpiles of personal data,” he said, “serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”

He celebrated the “transformative work of the European institutions tasked with the successful implementation of the GDPR”, as well as celebrating the steps taken towards greater privacy by Singapore, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand and many more nations.

Crucially, he said, that: “It is time for the rest of the world — including my home country — to follow your lead.

“We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States. There and everywhere, it should be rooted in four essential rights: First, the right to have personal data minimised. Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data — or not to collect it in the first place.

“Second, the right to knowledge. Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham. Third, the right to access. Companies should recognise that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data. And fourth, the right to security. Security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights.”

He went on: “Technology’s potential is, and always must be, rooted in the faith people have in it, in the optimism and creativity that it stirs in the hearts of individuals, in its promise and capacity to make the world a better place.

“It’s time to face facts. We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it.”

He said artificial intelligence, which promises to learn from people individually to benefit us all, can only be truly smart if it respects human values, including privacy.

He added: “If we get this wrong, the dangers are profound.

“We can achieve both great artificial intelligence and great privacy standards. It’s not only a possibility, it is a responsibility.

“In the pursuit of artificial intelligence, we should not sacrifice the humanity, creativity and ingenuity that define our human intelligence.

“And at Apple, we never will.”

He added: “Those of us who are fortunate enough to work in technology have an enormous responsibility.

“We at Apple can — and do — provide the very best to our users while treating their most personal data like the precious cargo that it is. And if we can do it, then everyone can do it.”