While insisting that he is "not a pro-regulation kind of person," Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the free market has failed to provide adequate protections for privacy, and he believes it is time for the government to step in.
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During an interview on HBO's “Vice News Tonight,” which aired on Tuesday, Cook said:
I'm not a pro-regulation kind of person. I believe in the free market deeply. ... But I think you have to recognize when the free market doesn't produce the result that’s great for society. You have to ask yourself: What do we need to do? And I think some level of government regulation is important to come out of that.
Cook did not elaborate on what he thought this regulation might look like. However, he conceded that Congress's understanding of this topic was “a challenge,” and that tech companies would have to help Congress "come up to speed on what's possible.”
Privacy, Cook argued, is “one of the most important issues of the 21st century" and “central to liberty.”
“I don't want to see it slip away," he added. "Because it's like a part of us slipping away. I mean when I say 'us,' I don't mean us Apple; I mean us as Americans.”
Cook acknowledged the huge amount of data that could potentially be accessed on a user's iPhone, but he stressed that Apple remained committed to privacy.
"We’re at a stage now, where more information is available about you, online and on your phone than there is in your house," Cook said. "You know, chances are your phone knows what you’ve been browsing, knows your friends, knows your relationships, has all of your photos."
He also argued that user data was not necessary to improve smart technology like Siri or Amazon's Alexa. He called any claims by other tech companies that this information was crucial to developing and updating this type of technology “a bunch of bunk.”
Asked about Apple's commitment to privacy, Cook pointed to an interview from June 1, 2010, where late Apple founder Steve Jobs said that “privacy means people know what they're signing up for in plain English and repeatedly.”
He called this view both simple and “profound,” and said that he couldn't imagine a future Apple CEO viewing privacy differently: "I think the next person — I don't want to commit them — but I can't imagine it. It's not in my imagination that somebody would just say, 'Oh, time to change.'"