Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, was honored as a “champion of freedom” at an event hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
In a break-away from the traditional norm, EPIC bestowed the honor for ‘corporate leadership’ to an individual from a business world. EPIC is a non-profit research center based in Washington and it focuses on user privacy and fundamental civil liberties and rights issues.
“Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security,” Cook began. “We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it and morality demands it.”
Tim Cook has been perfectly clear in his opinion on encryption and data privacy, having recently signed a letter that has many supporters to strengthen encryption, asking the President to reject any and all proposals to weaken security through the installation of back doors.
The criticism of companies such as Facebook and Google
In a strong speech, Tim Cook pulled no punches in his criticism of other tech companies based in Silicon Valley that are fundamentally ad-driven in the way their revenues come as a consequence of data gathering from their users and advertising to them directly.
“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” said Cook. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Although the companies weren’t named directly, the references made were entirely clear. In adding to the point, Cook also noted the trade-offs and compromises one makes with free services such as Google’s Gmail, which are fundamentally free but gather a user’s personal information in the process. There was a withering criticism that came with it, with Cook saying: “You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose.” He added, “We think someday, customers will see this for what it is.”
Upholding and enhancing encryption
Cook, one of the most vocal, high-profile proponents of upholding encryption while being a passionate opponent of “backdoors” and other means through which agencies and law enforcement would be able to bypass encryption on user devices. He observed that weakened encryption will not only hinge on fundamental human rights and privacy, but will also leave room for malicious hackers and criminals to operate.
“If you put a key under a mat just for the cops, a burglar can find it, too,” said Cook. “Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there is a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.”
He concluded by saying that consumers should have fundamentally be able to protect their rights without having to choose between privacy and security, adding that both should be provided to consumers in equal measure.