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"We felt strongly about privacy when no one cared," Cook told an audience at Fortune's CEO Initiative event in San Francisco, California. "We could not see the specific details, but we could see that the building of the detailed profile on people likely would result in significant harm over time."
"It could be used for too many nefarious things," he added.
Cook's comments came in light of data and privacy making headlines in recent months, following data scandals and the roll-out of legislation in certain regions.
Earlier this year, Facebook said about 87 million users had their information improperly shared with a data analytics firm, which resulted in a massive scandal. In March, Cook criticized Facebook and said privacy was a human right and a core American value.
On Monday, Cook warned that people in today's environment do not have a full view of the kind of information others have on them. They don't realize, "how much of their lives have been opened to commercial entities and public entities," Cook said.
Maintaining control of the content that appears on Apple's platforms is important to the company, despite criticisms about the practice, according to Cook: "For us, Apple has always stood for curation. We always believed that quality, not quantity, is the most important thing."
He pointed to the 2008 launch of the App Store, in which Apple controls the kind of applications that are available to users. That view was also applied to Apple News because "news was kind of going a little crazy," Cook said.
"For Apple News, we felt that the top stories should be selected by humans ... to make sure that you're not picking content that strictly has the goal of enraging people," he said, adding that users always have the option to get alternative views from other outlets.
Earlier in the day, Apple said it was adding a new section in Apple News for the 2018 Midterm Elections in the United States. The section will contain breaking news and analysis from "reliable sources" selected by Apple News editors.
Competitors Facebook and Google. on the other hand, rely more on computer programs to personalize the content available to individual users. Still, last week Facebook said it was ramping up its efforts to fight fake news, including expanding fact-checking programs to more countries and, for the first time, fact-checking photos and videos.