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Apple's Tim Cook: 'News was kind of going a little crazy'

The CEO also says Apple has to speak out about things like immigration and human rights because if it didn't, it would be "in the 'appalling silence of the good people' category."

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Fortune's Adam Lashinsky (right) interviews Apple CEO Tim Cook at a conference Monday in San Francisco. 

James Martin/CNET

Apple's always believed in curation -- and that's even true when it comes to news, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Monday. 

Earlier in the day, Apple unveiled a 2018 midterm elections section in its News app, promising US readers curated content through November. It will offer coverage from Fox News, Vox and other selected outlets, along with exclusives like The Washington Post's Election Now dashboard, a weekly briefing from Axios and Politico's Races to Watch.

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Apple didn't launch the special section to censor politics, Cook said during the Fortune CEO Initiative conference in San Francisco. Instead, it created the section because "news was kind of going a little crazy," he said. 

"For Apple News, we felt top stories should be selected by humans, not to be political at all but ... to make sure you're not picking content that strictly has the goal of enraging people," Cook said. 

He added that Apple plans to "bring this same kind of view to different subjects over time."

Ever since Apple first launched the App Store in 2008, the company has curated what it offers. It doesn't allow pornography, incendiary content or other items that go against its values. Even though that stance has faced criticism at times, Cook said Monday that "this is our store and it says something about us, what's in there."

Cook, who joined Apple in 1998 to run operations, was Steve Jobs' hand-picked successor. He took over the top role for good in 2011, and since then, Apple has become one of the most powerful companies in the world. During his time as CEO, Cook has worked to broaden Apple's operations beyond the iPhone, but about two-thirds of the company's revenue still comes the popular smartphone.

Speaking out

Cook also has taken a strong stance on social issues, coming out as gay in 2014 and championing diversity at his company. Under his leadership, Apple has put itself at the front of social issues like LGBT rights, racial equality and the tech industry's need to improve workforce diversity. Still, it's been difficult for Apple and its peers to show significant percentage increases in representation among its employee base.

Cook also has pushed strong privacy and security policies at Apple, even fighting the US government with the company's efforts. And Cook has encouraged Apple to make its operations greener. In April, the company said all of its operations now run on clean energy

On Monday, Cook said Apple speaks up about areas that relate to its values -- education, privacy, human rights, immigration and the environment. Last week, he criticized the US' policy to separate children from their immigrant parents at the border. 

When it comes to immigration in particular, Apple has over 300 employees who are in the US under DACA, a controversial Obama-era immigration program that offers undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children a chance to work and study without fear of deportation. Apple also has "several thousand" employees who are in the US on the H-1B visa, the foreigner worker program that's been at risk under Trump's tenure. 

"This gives us both a perspective to share about the importance of having people with different points of view when running a global company with global customers, but it also gives us a bit of perspective on what the life is like," Cook said.

He added that Apple hasn't ever donated money to a political campaign and it doesn't like getting involved in politics. It will, however, speak out about policy it believes is wrong.

"If you do agree [that companies have values], and something happens that's not consistent with those, then you need to speak," Cook said. "If you don't … you're in the 'appalling silence of the good people' category. This is something I've never wanted to be a part of."

Unplugging

Cook also said Apple didn't introduce new parental controls and ways to monitor iPhone usage because of pressure from shareholders. Its new Screen Time app, which will roll out to all users with iOS 12 later this year, tells you how much you're using a device, what you're actually doing on it and even how often you pick up your iPhone. And a Downtime feature will let you set limits on how much your children are using their devices.

The company had been facing backlash from investors and device users over concerns about phone addiction among children. But Cook on Monday said parental controls are something Apple has worked on since the beginning. And it wants to help all of us put our phones down more often. 

"It's become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices," Cook said. "What we've tried to do is then think through, pretty deeply, how could we help with that."

Cook, for his part, found out he has too many notifications set up. And he started looking at how often he actually picks up his phone. 

"We've never wanted people to overuse our product," Cook said. "We want people to be empowered by them and do things they couldn't do otherwise. But if you're spending all the time on your phone, you're spending too much time."

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