Facebook’s former security chief criticizes Tim Cook’s comments on privacy

Facebook’s former chief security officer is calling out Tim Cook for his recent speech about privacy and what he calls the steady rise of the “data industrial complex.” While Alex Stamos says he mostly agrees with what the Apple CEO said during his Wednesday speech at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, he suggests Cooks is perhaps being hypocritical because of his company’s dealings with China.

On Twitter, Stamos said, “I agree with almost everything Tim Cook said in his privacy speech today, which is why it is so sad to see the media credulously covering his statements without the context of Apple’s actions in China.” This was followed by at least 10 additional tweets where he explained what he liked and didn’t like about Cook’s comments.

Stamos, who had stints at Yahoo and Artemis Internet, left Facebook earlier this year after three years on the job. According to TechCrunch, Stamos left Facebook after disagreeing “considerably with the tack Facebook had taken in disclosure and investigation of its role in hosting state-sponsored disinformation seeded by Russian intelligence.”

On the positive side, Stamos say he agrees with Cook’s suggestion that the United States needs stronger privacy laws. He also believes companies like Google and Facebook need to “collect less data and minimize more often.”

Unfortunately, he says companies like Apple seem less concerned about user privacy and protection when they operate in China, the second largest consumer market in the world.

Stamos explains, “China is an ethical blind spot for many in tech: We ignore the working conditions under which our beautiful devices are made, the censorship and surveillance necessary to ship apps there.” Further, he condemns Apple for its decision earlier this year to hand over the keys to iCloud data in the communist nation. The change, which was enacted in January, was made to comply with Chinese law that said customer data collected on the China mainland must be stored locally.

On this point, Stamos notes, “Apple needs to come clean on how iCloud works in China and stop setting damaging precedents for how willing American companies will be to service the internal security desires of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Are they both right?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone like Stamos went after Cook following his remarks. The Apple CEO, without naming either Facebook or Google, used most of his speech at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners to zero in on those companies for how they collect and maintain user data.

During the speech, Cook explained, “These threads of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold. Taken to its extreme this process creates an enduring digital profile, and lets companies know you better than you may know yourself.”

In many respects, Cook and Stamos are both right.

Yes, more needs to be done in the United States and elsewhere when it comes to protecting and maintaining personal data. At the same time, Stamos is correct that companies like Apple have often looked the other way when it comes to China, which has often been criticized by organizations like Human Rights Watch for how it treats its citizens.

There’s no doubt Cook’s comments hit a nerve, and I would expect we’ll be seeing further reactions in the coming days.

Is Stamos right to criticize Cook over his comments? Let us know below.