Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘Privacy to us is a human right...a civil liberty'

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
Jason Lee | Reuters

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is in Washington D.C. Tuesday to testify before Congress about customer privacy, this after it was revealed in March that research firm Cambridge Analytica gained access to the personal information of as many as 87 million Facebook users.

The scandal and resulting fallout have made privacy an issue of immediate concern for the wider tech industry. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently reiterated his views on the subject, taking a strong stance.

"We care about the user experience. And we're not going to traffic in your personal life," Cook said of Apple. "I think it's an invasion of privacy."

Cook made the comments during an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Recode's Kara Swisher, which was taped in late March and aired April 6.

"Privacy to us is a human right. It's a civil liberty," he said. "[I]n something that is unique to America, you know, this is like freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and privacy is right up there for us."

Cook said Apple has always protected the data of its customers: "This is not something that we just started last week, when we saw something happening. We've been doing this for years."

Facebook ups users impact by Cambridge Analytica to 87 million
Facebook ups users impact by Cambridge Analytica to 87 million

Apple has opted to prioritize privacy in controversial situations. For example, in the wake of the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Apple resisted the FBI's request to unlock the iPhone of one of the terrorists.

"The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand," Cook said in a letter to customers at the time. "The implications of the government's demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone's device to capture their data."

Ultimately, the FBI found a third-party to unlock the iPhone and the case was dropped.

In the recent interview with Hayes and Swisher, Cook said Apple's stance on privacy costs the company money.

"The truth is we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer. If our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money," he said. "We've elected not to do that. Because ... our products are iPhones and iPads and Macs and HomePods and the Watch, etc., and if we can convince you to buy one, we'll make a little bit of money, right?

"But you are not our product," said Cook. "You are our customer. You are a jewel."

Tim Cook on Facebook's data leak scandal: 'I wouldn't be in this position'
Tim Cook on Facebook's data leak scandal: 'I wouldn't be in this position'

Such granular profiles are fundamentally wrong, said Cook.

"We've never believed that these detailed profiles of people — that has incredibly deep personal information that is patched together from several sources — should exist. That the connection of all of these dots, that you could use them in such devious ways if someone wanted to do that, that this was one of the things that were possible in life but shouldn't exist," said Cook. "Shouldn't be allowed to exist."

When Swisher asked Cook what Zuckerberg should do, now that his company is in the throws of the Cambridge Analytics data scandal, Cook's response was to the point: "What would I do? I wouldn't be in this situation."

Cook emphasized the difference between tech companies.

"I think everybody needs to understand Silicon Valley is not monolithic," Cook said. "These companies are really different, company to company.

"And, so ... we have to think about how these profiles can be abused," said Cook. "And I might have a different view than you. I might be more on the privacy side than most, right? I suspect everybody has a personal different level of sharing that they will do, but everybody should know what they're doing. Everybody should know what they're giving up."

Cook's perspective hearkens back to that of his legendary predecessor, Steve Jobs.

"Privacy means people know what they're signing up for — in plain English, and repeatedly," Jobs said at an AllThingsD conference in 2010, according to a 2016 story by Recode. "A lot of people in the Valley think we're really old-fashioned about this," Jobs said. "And maybe we are."

See also:

Watch Tim Cook honor Steve Jobs with emotional address
Watch Tim Cook honor Steve Jobs with emotional address