Apple CEO Tim Cook lobs daggers at Google, Facebook

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Tim Cook at an EU privacy conference in Brussels on Wednesday
Tim Cook at an EU privacy conference in Brussels on Wednesday Credit: Bloomberg

Apple CEO Tim Cook lashed into companies such as Facebook and Google that collect user data, equating their services to "surveillance," as he touted the importance of privacy and legislation to protect it.

The comments, given at an EU privacy conference in Brussels on Wednesday, come months after the bloc implemented strict new data protection rules and as Apple begins to mend a difficult relationship with the EU following a clash over nearly $15 billion in allegedly unpaid taxes.

In some of his harshest rebukes of his competitors yet, Cook sought to distinguish the iPhone maker from Silicon Valley competitors, like Alphabet Google and Facebook, both under scrutiny for recent user data breaches.

"We shouldn't sugarcoat the consequences," he said Wednesday. "This is surveillance and these stockpiles of data serve only to make rich the companies that collect them. This should make us uncomfortable."

Cook has previously criticized the companies for basing their business models on harvesting personal information for advertising, while highlighting that Apple tries to collect as little of it as possible.

"We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right but also recognize that not everyone sees it that way," Cook said, referring to his competitors. "The desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new."

In a video message later streamed to the same conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the company's advertising-based business model, saying it allowed its services to "be affordable for everyone."

"Instead of charging people, we charge advertisers to show ads," Zuckerberg said. "People consistently tell us that they want a free service."

Speaking in person before the audience, Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said the company acknowledges that because its business model is based on processing people's information, "that means we have more to do from a privacy protection standpoint."

Cook in his speech also reiterated calls for federal privacy laws in the U.S. similar to those unveiled in Europe, called the General Data Protection Regulation.

In the wake of those new rules, regulators and lawmakers in Europe and the U.S. have trained their eyes on Facebook and Google, particularly following revelations of potential user privacy violations.

Facebook in September reported a cyber-attack that affected 30 million people, with hackers stealing intimate user information, including search results, recent locations and hometowns, in many cases. And after keeping quiet for months, Google in October said it found a "software glitch" in its Google+ social network in March that could have exposed the personal data of as many as half a million users.

Despite criticizing their companies, Apple indirectly benefits from that business. Google will pay Apple as much as $9 billion this year for its search engine to be the default on many parts of the iPhone and other Apple devices, Goldman Sachs estimates.

– Bloomberg News

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