Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday that his company will continue to fight for data privacy protections that are in the best interests of consumers, calling it “one of the most important battles of our time.”
Cook also reacted angrily to accusations that his company’s strict controls over its app store are anti-competitive. While Apple claims that the controls protect consumer security and privacy, the store is the only official place to download apps for iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches.
Cook said at the International Association of Privacy Professionals Global Privacy Summit that privacy is still under threat from the “data industrial complex,” which seeks to collect data on everything from where people eat and shop to the websites they visit.
While these companies claim to be collecting data in order to provide customers with a more personalized experience, Cook points out that they rarely give customers a choice.
“Who would stand for such a thing if it were happening in the physical world?” he asked, noting that few people would agree to have someone with a camera follow them as they drove their child to school or worked on their laptops.
“That’s not a service; that’s an emergency,” he explained. “It is one in the digital world as well.”
Cook highlighted several data privacy features introduced by Apple in recent years, noting that users can now decide for themselves whether their apps should be able to track their activity across devices, as well as take steps to mask their location and shield their email addresses if they wish.
He also mentioned Apple’s efforts to reduce the amount of data it collects and increase the amount of processing done on-device rather than in the cloud, lowering the risk that consumer data will be stolen by cybercriminals.
While Cook stated that the company remains in favor of strong privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, and continues to advocate for such legislation in the United States, he also stated that new regulations being debated in this country could jeopardize security and privacy.
There has been much discussion, both in the public and within the tech industry, about how much power tech behemoths should have over their respective app stores and platforms.
Apple’s restrictions, which prevent developers from offering other app stores or using alternative payment processors for in-app sales of digital products such as new looks for a character in a game, have been criticized by lawmakers, regulators, and developers. Apple and Google both charge 15% to 30% commissions on those transactions, claiming that this helps fund the technology and operation of their respective storefronts.
Some of the industry’s biggest developers have taken strong stances against the current app store system. Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, has sued both Apple and Google over the way their respective app stores restrict payments. Last year, the game developer, whose online battle royale game has become an international sensation, argued unsuccessfully to a California District Court Judge that Apple’s actions violated antitrust laws. That decision is being appealed.
Allowing companies to download apps from outside sources, Cook argued on Tuesday, could allow them to circumvent Apple’s privacy safeguards and jeopardize the security of consumer data. While he did not specifically mention Google’s Android operating system, he did mention a recent case of a malicious app that spread ransomware on devices other than Apple’s after users downloaded it from somewhere other than the official app store.