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Tim Cook's Call for New Privacy Law Isn't What It Seems

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at a data privacy conference before the European Parliament in Brussels. (Virginia Mayo / AP)

During his keynote address at the International Conference of Data Protection in Brussels on Wednesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook called on the federal government to follow Europe’s lead by adopting stringent privacy law, warning against the dangers of an emergent data-industrial complex. “Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” he said.

While he declined to mention them by name, Cook was almost certainly speaking of Facebook and Google, both of which have come under scrutiny for their willingness to sell users’ private information. Last May, The Guardian revealed that the former had harvested upward of 50 million profiles for Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that worked for the Trump and Brexit campaigns in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. “We … made mistakes, there’s more to do, and we need to step up and do it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

Shortly thereafter, the European Union adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GPDR), imposing transparency rules on all companies, but especially those that trade in such data. Cook contends the law, which targets tech behemoths and middlemen alike with fines for violations, represents a crucial step toward preserving our personal privacy in the digital age.

“We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right,” Cook inveighed. “But we also recognize that not everyone sees things as we do. … 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, synthesized, traded, and sold.”

Just don’t confuse the Apple head with consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader. As Russell Brandon notes in The Verge, “Cook’s stance isn’t as bold as it seems,” largely because every tech company has endorsed one privacy bill or another—sometimes directly to Congress. Indeed, both Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundai Pichar voiced their support for European-style regulation in separate addresses Wednesday. Writes Brandon:

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg treat regulation as a given, telling Congress the only question is how such a bill should be written. Google even went so far as laying out what a responsible data-privacy bill might look like, in advance of a Senate Commerce hearing in September. Microsoft has drawn less attention as a regulatory target, but CEO Satya Nadella has spoken in similar terms, endorsing the GDPR as ‘a good, sound regulation.’

Tech companies haven’t always been so blasé about new privacy laws — but at this point, regulations are coming whether they like it or not. If they want a say in how the rules are written, their best option is to get on board. That lets them steer the conversation toward a weaker version of the bill, much like the one put forward by Google. And with the GDPR already in place in Europe, the most serious damage has already been done.

Read more at The Verge.

Jacob Sugarman
Jacob Sugarman is the acting managing editor at Truthdig. He is a graduate of the Arthur L. Carter Institute of Journalism whose writing has appeared in Salon, AlterNet and Tablet, among other…
Jacob Sugarman

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