At a ceremony organized by the Electronic Privacy Information Center or EPIC, Apple CEO Tim Cook was handed the organization’s Freedom Award, a prestigious merit previously given to the likes of Edward Snowden and Senator Rand Paul. In a rousing speech for the occasion, Cook reiterated the company’s stance on privacy and lost no words in calling out not only the US government’s untiring attempts to get access to your data but also industry players’ disregard for their own customer’s privacy, in exchange for profits.
Cook named no one, but it won’t take a genius to know that Facebook and Google would be at the top of that list in Silicon Valley. Apple’s chief executive specifically mentions activities involving the harvesting of personal information to sell to the highest bidder. These are usually in exchange for some free service, like free e-mail or free messaging. They may be free, but the cost to privacy might be too high a price to pay.
Unlike Facebook and Google, Apple’s business isn’t beholden to selling such information to partners. It’s walled garden implies a kind of safety net that reassures users that their data remains inside Apple’s territory, unless it is forcibly broken out by hacking or poor security measures, as the iCloud scandal last year showed. Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform is also underway, though there has been no indication that the company plans on making money out of selling the information that can and will be gathered by these interconnected smart appliances.
Cook took no pains to criticize the US government, its staunchest opponent in the fight for privacy. Apple wants to strengthen privacy and security by implementing encryption. The government wants easy access by putting backdoors in software and computer systems that only it can access. But Cook uses the line of reasoning that has been made over and over again, seemingly falling on deaf ears. If you have a backdoor, or even a key to that backdoor, you are inevitably inviting even robbers in.
Cook’s speech, his strongest yet on the issue of privacy, couldn’t have come at a better time, both in the industry and in the country. The USA Freedom Act was just passed into law. Although the bill’s purpose was to limit the NSA’s powers, its passing effectively renewed the Patriot Act, which many freedom advocates thought should have died a silent and ignominious death.