Affiliate Disclosure
If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our ethics policy.

Tim Cook says privacy 'one of the top issues of the century'

Last updated

Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview on Thursday called privacy, specifically data privacy, one of the most important issues of our time.

Speaking with Fast Company, Cook placed privacy on the same echelon as dire worldwide problems such as climate change.

"In terms of privacy — I think it is one of the top issues of the century," Cook said. "We've got climate change — that is huge. We've got privacy — that is huge. . . . And they should be weighted like that and we should put our deep thinking into that and to decide how can we make these things better and how do we leave something for the next generation that is a lot better than the current situation."

He went on to illustrate the importance of data privacy tools like Apple's upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature. Due for release this spring, the new affordance will opt users out of ad tracking by default and require developers to ask permission before leveraging tracking technology.

"I try to get somebody to think about what happens in a world where you know that you're being surveilled all the time. What changes do you then make in your own behavior? What do you do less of? What do you not do anymore? What are you not as curious about anymore if you know that each time you're on the web, looking at different things, exploring different things, you're going to wind up constricting yourself more and more and more and more? That kind of world is not a world that any of us should aspire to.

And so I think most people, when they think of it like that . . . start thinking quickly about, Well, what am I searching for? I look for this and that. I don't really want people to know I'm looking at this and that, because I'm just curious about what it is' or whatever. So it's this change of behavior that happens that is one of the things that I deeply worry about, and I think that everyone should worry about it."

Threats by law enforcement agencies and governments to weaken end-to-end encryption are also a worry.

"You know, I'm a big believer in encryption— in end-to-end encryption with no back doors— and so I do worry about anyone trying to break that in any kind of way or weaken it in any kind of way," Cook said.

Cook was also asked to comment on "Big Tech," a term synonymous with companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook, firms that have become a political punching bag over the past few years for their pervasive presence in everyday life. The executive cautioned against "broad-brush categorization" and encourages people to judge each company individually based on business model, conduct and values.

On artificial intelligence, a technology that Tesla founder Elon Musk believes will be the downfall of humanity, Cook seemed less than concerned.

"I think both of those can be used for bad things and can be amplified by technology," Cook said of AI and privacy. "And so which one is above the other one? I don't know. I would say we can't let ourselves just choose one of those two to focus on. We have to have ethical AI, just like we have to have ethical data privacy and data collection. There's an intersection of those two as well, right? Both are paramount and have to be worked on."

The Apple chief retread ground covered in today's speech presented to at the European Computers, Privacy & Data Protection (CPDP) conference, from technology's role in fostering ideological extremism to privacy legislation like the European Union's GDPR.