Tim Cook decries ‘data industrial complex,” pushes for privacy legislation in the US

In a speech at a privacy conference in Europe, Apple CEO Tim Cook went after companies he says are hoarding personal data for financial gain. Calling it the “data industrial complex,” he suggests new privacy laws are needed, especially in the United States.

Though he didn’t mention Facebook and Google by name, Cook’s 15-minute speech at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium was clearly aimed at these two tech giants.

He noted “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.”

Cook continued, “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them. This should make us very uncomfortable. It should unsettle us.”

The Apple CEO praised Europe for its recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, and encouraged the United States to introduce similar laws.

He explained, “It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country, to follow suit. We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”

This privacy law, according to Cook, should make it easier for users to see which data is collected and why. A key component here, not surprisingly, is security.

“Security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights,” he explained.

Wrapping up his comments, Cook admitted that not everyone in Silicon Valley feels the same way as he does. “There are many people who would prefer I hadn’t said all that. Some oppose any formal privacy legislation, others will endorse reform in public and then resist and undermine it behind closed doors,” he noted.

You can watch Cook’s entire speech via YouTube here:

I’ve never been one to push for regulation. Nonetheless, when it comes to the collection of personal data, it seems that changes are necessary. I’ve been saying for years that companies like Facebook and Google should be forced to offer paid subscriptions for its services that wouldn’t include the collection of personal data. In doing so, consumers would be given a choice.

Cook’s proposals, while noble, would still allow companies to collect user data, only with more oversight and transparency. I’m not sure this is enough.

There’s a least one area where tech companies seem to be moving in a positive direction, even without regulations in the U.S.

In recent months, companies have made it easier for users to see the type of data it collects. Apple, for example, has introduced the same tool it offers in Europe for users to request a copy of their personal data. Facebook and Google have also made this type of request easier in recent months.

Do you agree with Cook’s assessments that more should be done about data collection? Leave your opinions below.