Apple CEO Tim Cook talks Bitcoin, China & side-loading in wide-ranging interview

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Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke on a variety of topics at The New York Times DealBook summit, including the company's role in users' mental health — and the fact that he personally owns Bitcoin.

In the wide-ranging interview with the New York Times' Aaron Ross Sorkin, Cook spoke on a variety of topics related to Apple and the broader technology industry. On the topic of cryptocurrency, Cook revealed that maintains an interest in Bitcoin from a "personal point of view."

"I do. I think it's reasonable to own it as part of a diversified portfolio," Cook said when asked if he owned the cryptocurrency, adding that he has been interested in the area "for a while."

However, Cook shot down the possibilities of Apple accepting Bitcoin as payment for its product, or the company buying Bitcoin as a corporate investment.

"I wouldn't go invest in crypto, not because I wouldn't invest my own money, but because I don't think people buy Apple stock to get exposure to crypto," Cook said. He added that Apple is looking at the area of cryptocurrency, but said there aren't any immediate plans in the space.

Mental health

At other points during the interview, Cook said that companies have a responsibility to be a force for good in society. That includes mental health. While more research needs to be done, Cook said, "all of us should care about making products that help people's mental health and not play against it."

He used the Screen Time feature as an example of the ways companies can fight for mental health, stating that he has changed his own behavior based on iPhone usage data that the feature tracks.

When asked about whether he believes the time spent on social media is an overall negative, Cook said it depends on the person.

"I think if you're scrolling mindlessly or letting yourself be spun up on negativity, I think this is bad," Cook said. "I think it's bad for your mental health, I think it's bad for the people around you. But I think the person that ultimately has to decide that is that person."

Apple's role, he said, is simply to provide the information for users to make an informed choice.

Side-loading

On the topic of choices, Cook was asked about the split between Apple claiming it offers user choice when it comes to privacy and the company's prohibition on users choosing to side-load on iOS. The Apple chief executive denied that there wasn't a choice for users.

"I think people have that choice today, Andrew," Cook said. "Because if you want to side-load, you can buy an Android phone. So that choice exists, when you go into the carrier shop, if that's important to you, then you should buy an Android phone."

Cook compared allowing side-loading to telling an automaker not to install airbags in a car. He described allowing side-loading on iOS as "too risky," since "it wouldn't be an iPhone if it didn't maximize security and privacy."

China & policy

When it came to criticisms that Apple did not speak out enough on allegations of human rights abuses in China, Cook defended Apple's approach and said the company does speak privately about those concerns.

Apple's responsibility is "to do business in as many places as we can," which means complying with each countries' individual regulations. He said that "engagement is the right approach," and that being on the sidelines "is never a good place, at least for business."

Cook was also asked about his role as a CEO, since he has been publicly outspoken on a number of policy issues, such as immigration or voting rights.

"I think about not wading into politics, but sort of sticking to a lane on policy," Cook said. "You know, Apple is one of the very few medium or large companies that doesn't even have a PAC. And so we try to steer clear of the politics on something and focus on policy. And if it's a policy that intersects with our values or intersects with our company in some way, the likelihood that we're going to speak up is great."

Future products

Cook was asked by Sorkin about several different rumored product initiatives, including future hardware plans for augmented or virtual reality, as well as the long-rumored "Apple Car."

The Apple CEO said he wasn't going to share any information or make any announcements because the company doesn't like to talk about the future, stating that "it wouldn't be us if we didn't keep something up our sleeve."