We yesterday got a preview of a few elements of Tim Cook’s speech to the 40th International Conference of Data Protection & Privacy Commissioners.

The full speech is now available as a video, and Apple’s CEO spoke about why privacy, dignity and respect are key issues for the tech industry as well as society as a whole …

Tim Cook’s speech opened by highlighting the positive impact of technology, but warning that it can do harm as well as good.

These are transformative times. Around the world, from Copenhagen to Chennai to Cupertino, new technologies are driving breakthroughs in humanity’s greatest common projects. From preventing and fighting disease…To curbing the effects of climate change…To ensuring every person has access to information and economic opportunity. 

At the same time, we see vividly—painfully—how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.

This crisis is real. It is not imagined, or exaggerated, or “crazy.” And those of us who believe in technology’s potential for good must not shrink from this moment.

It is time, he said, to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in.

He spoke about the way that personal data has become a commodity.

Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.

Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations… Our wishes and fears… Our hopes and dreams.

These scraps of data – each one harmless enough on its own – are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold […]

We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.

He also addressed the problem of social media bubbles.

Your profile is […] run through algorithms that can serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into hardened convictions. If green is your favorite color, you may find yourself reading a lot of articles—or watching a lot of videos—about the insidious threat from people who like orange.

In the news, almost every day, we bear witness to the harmful, even deadly, effects of these narrowed world views.

Cook said that Europe had given the world a lead through its adoption of GDPR – the toughest privacy laws ever created – and that it is time for the US to do the same.

We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States. There, and everywhere, it should be rooted in four essential rights: First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to de-identify customer data—or not to collect it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge. Users should always know what data is being collected and what it is being collected for. This is the only way to empower users to decide what collection is legitimate and what isn’t. Anything less is a sham. Third, the right to access. Companies should recognize that data belongs to users, and we should all make it easy for users to get a copy of…correct…and delete their personal data. And fourth, the right to security. Security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights.

He said that privacy was in Apple’s bloodstream.

At Apple, respect for privacy—and a healthy suspicion of authority—have always been in our bloodstream. Our first computers were built by misfits, tinkerers, and rebels—not in a laboratory or a board room, but in a suburban garage. We introduced the Macintosh with a famous TV ad channeling George Orwell’s 1984—a warning of what can happen when technology becomes a tool of power and loses touch with humanity.

And way back in 2010, Steve Jobs said in no uncertain terms: “Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain language, and repeatedly.”

He ended by saying that if Apple can prioritise privacy, then so too can other tech companies – and Europe has demonstrated what other governments can do.

We at Apple can—and do—provide the very best to our users while treating their most personal data like the precious cargo that it is. And if we can do it, then everyone can do it.

Fortunately, we have your example before us.

You can listen to Tim Cook’s speech in full below.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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