Tim Cook Takes His Turn to Dunk on Facebook, Backing Data Privacy Regulations

By Tom McKay on at

Mark Zuckerberg and his data-hoarding creation Facebook remain in the crosshairs this week as scrutiny over its Cambridge Analytica profile-scraping scandal continues to mount, with the social media giant’s stock price falling by over 13 per cent this week.

So it’s not surprising that some of his fellow tech moguls are taking Zuckerberg’s moment of vulnerability to take some potshots. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk very publicly deleted his companies’ Facebook accounts this week, though it’s unclear whether the move will be permanent. (Might have something to do with bad blood over that satellite of Zuckerberg’s he accidentally blew up.) Now Apple CEO Tim Cook, whose brand has long positioned itself as privacy-conscious, is publicly calling for Facebook to be regulated.

Per Bloomberg, while at Beijing’s China Development Forum on Saturday, Cook said he believed the situation was “dire” and dramatic action needed to be taken:

“I think that this certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary,” Cook said after being asked if the use of data should be restricted in light of the Facebook incident. “The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view it shouldn’t exist.”

Cook added:

“We’ve worried for a number of years that people in many countries were giving up data probably without knowing fully what they were doing and that these detailed profiles that were being built of them, that one day something would occur and people would be incredibly offended by what had been done without them being aware of it,” he said. “Unfortunately that prediction has come true more than once.”

Cook has more than a small point here—the amount of data Facebook has compiled on its users is best described as Orwellian. Everything that makes the site useful essentially exists as a pretext to keep users offering up more and more of their personal information to Facebook, which currently controls somewhere around one out of every five digital ad dollars spent in the US. A few months ago it was even testing a seemingly innocent “Did You Know” plugin in what seemed to be a test of how much further the company could cloak asking potentially revealing questions as a fun little game. There’s open speculation as to whether Cambridge Analytica is really the only company to abscond with huge amounts of Facebook user data or whether it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

In a recent CNN interview, even Zuckerberg admitted that perhaps the company should face some regulation, though he was careful to offer only minor concessions like transparency for political ads. But Cook appears to be calling for something more dramatic like stringent transparency and proactive user consent requirements, even though as a member of the ultra-wealthy set the chances of him calling for something like treating Facebook like a public utility or antitrust proceedings are probably nil. Cook’s words might also come off as a little insincere given Apple’s willingness to play by the rules of Chinese censors, though the company claims to not really have a choice between complying or losing its market access there. [Bloomberg]


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