Tech

Tim Cook takes a swipe at Big Tech rivals and their 'lack of responsibility'

Key Points
  • Tim Cook said in a podcast released Wednesday that Apple is different from other Silicon Valley giants shirking their responsibility on issues like misinformation.
  • "Some of the big issues that are surrounding tech today are the lack of responsibility taken on a platform about what happens," said Cook. "We clearly take responsibility."
  • Facebook, likely a veiled target of the comments, has increased its criticism of Apple's policies recently.
Tim Cook at Apple Event
Source: Apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook took shots at other Big Tech companies for not taking as much responsibility as Apple on issues such as misinformation and data privacy in an interview on "The Outside Podcast" released Wednesday morning. Cook's comments, which did not mention rivals by name, came as Facebook ramps up its criticism of Apple's policies.

"Some people see Silicon Valley as monolithic. And so in particular, the larger companies they sort of put in one bucket, if you will," said Cook on the podcast. "Some of the big issues that are surrounding tech today are the lack of responsibility taken on a platform about what happens. We clearly take responsibility. We make tough decisions."

Facebook, Google's YouTube and Twitter have faced consistent criticism for their misinformation policies, especially this year relating to the presidential election and Covid-19. While Facebook and Twitter have monitored posts about the election results since Nov. 3, YouTube only just announced Wednesday it would start taking down misinformation on that topic.

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Apple has avoided these problems directly since it doesn't have a social media platform, but Cook said the company has tried to play its part through curation in Apple News and the App Store.

"You can be a great amplifier of misinformation, of violence, of a lot of different things out there," said Cook. "We don't want to be a part of any of this. We don't want to be a part of the hate at all. And I feel, by and large, that we've avoided that."

Cook also differentiated Apple from other Big Tech companies on privacy, which he said could be "the most important topic of the 21st century" aside from climate change.

Starting in 2021, Apple will remove apps from the App Store that track users without first receiving their permission. This latest step to add privacy features is putting Apple increasingly at odds with advertisers like Facebook, who say the changes hurt their ability to target ads and measure their effectiveness. Facebook said Apple's change could reduce revenue for one of its advertising businesses by 50%. Facebook-owned WhatsApp also recently protested Apple's new privacy label requirements, claiming it would be anti-competitive because Apple's own iMessage would be exempt.

But Apple told CNBC on Wednesday that its own apps will also have the "nutrition labels" required of third-party developers.

Facebook is a frequent target of scrutiny over its own privacy practices. Most notably, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook a record $5 billion in 2019 after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the firm reportedly accessed the data of 87 million Facebook users without authorization.

"We go through extreme engineering in order not to collect a bunch of data, not to give the excuse of 'I've got to have all of this to do my job,'" said Cook. "So we just have to tell that story. And it is a challenge because the simplistic thinking just sort of categorizes everybody together. But fortunately, it's not what we're doing or how we're doing it or why we're doing it."

Cook also claimed that Apple does not design its products to "grab your attention," although some activists like Tristan Harris have argued that the iPhone is filled with design choices that increase engagement and foster tech addiction. But Cook noted that Apple has built features like Screen Time that can help with time management.

This year Apple has only grown bigger through the pandemic. Its stock is up 70% year-to-date as it has released a slew of new products this fall, from new iPhones and MacBooks to its new Fitness+ subscription service, which launches Dec. 14.

"The way that we've always viewed our responsibility is that, as a platform owner, that we have the responsibility of how the product is used and not just to throw something out there and see how it's used and see what the implications of it are," Cook said. "But everybody doesn't have that frame of mind, unfortunately."