Apple CEO Tim Cook warned against the weaponization of data Wednesday while advocating for stricter digital privacy protections in the United States.
During a keynote speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners (ICDPPC) in Brussels, Cook outlined both Apple’s commitment to user privacy as well as the dangers surrounding widespread data collection.
“Our own information—from the every day to the deeply personal—is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.”
Referring to the digital information trade as a “data-industrial complex,” Cook argued that those practices—when abused—represent none other than outright “surveillance.”
“Taken to the extreme this process creates an enduring digital profile and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself,” Cook said. “Your profile is a bunch of algorithms that serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into harm.”
The Apple CEO also warned against the damages that can be done to society as a whole by entities with access to vast troves of personal data.
“Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies,” Cook said. “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 crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or crazy.”
While Cook did not name specific companies, many saw his comments as being aimed at fellow tech giants Facebook and Google.
Cook also used the speech to praise the European Union (EU) for passing and implementing data privacy protections under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
“It is time for the rest of the world… to follow your lead,” Cook said. “We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”
Such a law, Cook said, would limit how much data companies can collect, demand they store the data securely, let users know what data is held on them, and allow users to access it.
“We will never achieve technology’s true potential without the full faith and confidence of the people who use it,” Cook continued.
In a Twitter thread following the speech, Cook reiterated his major points, telling followers: “It all boils down to a fundamental question: What kind of world do we want to live in?
“We believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. No matter what country you live in, that right should be protected…” Cook stated.
Watch Cook’s speech in full below.