In an interview that aired this evening on Vice News Tonight, Tim Cook sat down with Elle Reeve to talk about a wide-range of topics. The Apple CEO addressed the company’s evolving commitment to privacy, its relationship with China, the decision to pull Alex Jones content from the Podcasts app and App Store, AAPL’s $1T valuation and more.
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Tim Cook on China
Earlier this year, Apple moved iCloud data of Chinese customers to government-owned servers in an effort to comply with new laws in China. That move, and other aspects of Apple’s relationship with China, have come under scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers.
Regarding Apple’s relationship with China, which has come under fire from several U.S. politicians, however, Cook explained that data on its servers is no easier to access in one country than it is in another country:
It’s not easy for anybody to get it. I mean it’s encrypted like it is everywhere. And so no, I wouldn’t I wouldn’t get caught up in the, ‘Where’s the location of it?’ I mean, we have servers located in many different countries in the world. They are not easier to get data from being in one country versus the next.
If you lock your phone in China, I can’t open it. The thing about China that people have confused is that certain countries, China being one, have a requirement that data from local citizens has to be kept in China. We worked with a Chinese company to provide iCloud. But the keys are ours.
On privacy, Cook reiterated his belief that privacy is “one of the most important issues of the 21st century.” He added that while he’s typically not a “pro-regulation” person, he does believe it’s time for change:
I’m not a pro-regulation guy, but when the free market doesn’t produce a result great for society, you have to ask yourself what we need to do. We’ve got to figure out a way to take it to the next level and change some things.
The way we go into product design is we challenge ourselves to collect as little as possible. We challenge ourselves to make it not identifiable. We don’t read your email, your messages. You are not our product. It’s not the business we’re in.
Cook also pushed back against the idea that Apple’s focus on privacy is hurting Siri’s functionality. He explained that while some companies claim they need access to all user data to improve their service, Apple doesn’t buy into that:
The narrative that some companies will try to get you to believe is ‘I’ve got to take all of your data to make my service better.’ Well, don’t believe that. Whoever’s telling you that – it’s a bunch of bonk.
Censorship vs. Curation
Back in August, Apple was one of the first tech companies to take action against Alex Jones, pulling five Infowars podcasts from the Podcasts app. A month later, Apple took further action against Jones and permanently banned the Infowars app from the App Store.
Cook explained to Reeve that this is all part of Apple’s efforts to provide users a hand-curated platform – ranging from content that is “very conservative to very liberal,” adding that Apple doesn’t take a “political stand.”
What users want from us and what we’ve always provided them is a curated platform. We think the what the user wants is someone that does review these apps, someone that does review the podcasts, someone that on like Apple news, where a human is selecting the top stories. And that’s what we do. We don’t take a political stand. We’re not leaning one way or the other. You can tell that from the stuff on the App Store and in podcasts etc. You’ll see everything from very conservative to very liberal. And that’s the way I think it should be.
While Apple set the trend in the technology industry for taking action against Jones and Infowars – as even Mark Zuckerberg admitted – Cook said their was no pre-planned coordination:
I’ve never even had a conversation about [Alex Jones] with any other tech companies. We make our decisions independently and I think that’s important. Honestly. I’ve had no conversation. And to my knowledge, no one at Apple has.
Tim Cook’s successor
Last but not least, Reeve asked Cook about the future and what happens if his successor at Apple doesn’t share the same values on privacy as he does – especially given the power he has as Apple CEO. Cook, however, called it part of Apple’s culture to care about privacy, referencing this 2010 clip with Steve Jobs.
In terms of power, I’ve never felt like i have any power. It’s not how I look and think about the world. In privacy, if you look back at what Steve said, this is how we think, this is our culture. I think the next person, at least not in my imagination, would say it’s time to change.
Cook’s full interview can be seen below.