Data industrial complex needs US privacy law – Cook

data industrial complex
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Apple CEO Tim Cook told the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) today that the USA needed privacy protection laws to guard against the “data industrial complex”.

Criticising the process by which users’ personal data is collated and traded as part of the data industrial complex, monetised by technology giants like Facebook and Google, Cook told ICDPPC delegates the US needed data protection laws similar to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

“Our own information — from the everyday to the deeply personal — is being weaponised against us with military efficiency,” he said. “Scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesised, traded and sold.”

Cook argued for the concept of privacy as a human right, denouncing the data industrial complex as “surveillance” which “should make us very uncomfortable”. He called the GDPR a “transformative work” in the field of data protection and praised the EU for implementing comprehensive data protection reform, saying: “It is time for the rest of the world, including [the USA], to follow your lead.”

Alluding to the data protection scandals suffered by other tech companies and Apple’s relative commitment to user privacy, Cook said: “We see vividly – painfully – how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms that promise to improve our lives actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false. This is real. It is not imaginary or exaggerated or crazy…technology’s potential for good must not shrink from this moment.”

Cook outlined four “essential rights” to be enshrined in a hypothetical US privacy law to combat the worst excesses of the data industrial complex:

  • The right to have personal data minimised – companies should “de-identify” users’ personal data, or simply not collect it in the first place;
  • The right to knowledge – users should be informed what data is being collected about them and to what uses it is put;
  • The right to access – users should be able to retrieve or delete copies of their data held by companies; and
  • The right to security – “security is foundational to trust”, Cook said, and users needed to be confident that their information would not be misused by the data industrial complex.

Cook told the ICDPPC that Apple was broadly optimistic about the future of tech, but that the data industrial complex posed serious concerns for businesses and consumers; and that users and professionals alike needed to ask themselves: “What kind of world do we want to live in?”


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