February 4, 2019
Apple is Tackling Data Privacy PR Head-On
In a radical break from the Big-Tech norm, Apple CEO Tim Cook has called on the US government help internet users control the collection of their personal data. In an op-ed for Time magazine, Cook asserts that consumers should have the power to “delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.”
Cook’s pledge is pitted heavily against the “shadow economy” of data brokers, firms that ply their wares via the collection and sale of personal data reaped from digital tracking. Think Facebook’s 2018 data sharing scandal, of Cambridge Analytica and Trumpian fame.
“Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives,” Cook wrote, “this problem is solvable — it isn’t too big, too challenging or too late.”
Indeed, Cook has long upheld the importance of minimal data collection, holding Apple to a higher standard as scandal after scandal has tripped up his competitors. With consumers becoming ever more savvy in the wake of new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Cook no longer finds himself at the helm of an abstract conversation, but rather one finding ready traction in the real-world.
His advocacy is no doubt one that serves Apple well, with consumer suspicion of Big-Tech on the rise as public become more aware of the data-hungry practices of rivals Facebook and Google. Consumers were rocked to learn last year that Facebook allowed the harvesting of personally identifiable information of “up to 87 million people” to the political consulting and strategic communication firm Cambridge Analytica- a firm with the dubious reputation of being behind the pro-Brexit Leave EU campaign and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Cook is also able to paint himself as a sort of figurehead for what is set to be a rising social concern, with politicians thus far unable to demonstrate a unified political will to effect new regulation- or even an understanding of the mechanics of the problem. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal held countless lawmaker shortcomings to light, and this is unlikely to change in the short-term.
This perception gap is surely part of Cook’s appeal: his demands are clear, and delivered with the conviction and legitimacy of an industry leader. New federal standards are needed, he says, and the Federal Trade Commission tasked with creating a “data-broker clearinghouse” where companies that collect and sell personal information would need to register their activities.
While the political wheels are predictably slow to turn on this issue, Cook is shoring up Apple’s reputation ahead of the scandal-ridden curve in the meantime.