Tim Cook to governments: Lay off our privacy

Technically Incorrect: Apple's CEO says he doesn't believe that people should sacrifice their privacy on the altar of governments' definition of global security.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

"My government wants to watch me, and I don't like that." Les Grossman; YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Governments must think it terribly seductive, if not downright clever, when they encourage us to let them peek at everything we do.

It is, as many a parent chooses to argue, only for our own good.

It's as if they don't see the misgivings that come along with unlimited access to our lives. Apple CEO Tim Cook thinks such sales patter is misguided.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he said: "Terrorism is horrible and must be stopped. All of us must do everything we can do to stop this craziness."

It's unlikely the craziness can be entirely stopped. But Cook believes that "these people shouldn't exist. They should be eliminated."

But what of our role in their elimination?

Cook was very clear that our role is (and should be) limited. He said: "None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information. This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn't give it up. We shouldn't give in to scaremongering or to people who fundamentally don't understand the details."

There's an unmistakable suggestion that he thinks those in government who suggest blanket surveillance have no idea what's really going on.

Cook explained that terrorists have their own encryption systems. If governments forced companies like Apple not to encrypt data, then the only people affected would be the good people.

Apple's CEO also reiterated some of the basics of the company's business: that its product is its product, and its customer isn't. The implication is that Google and Facebook are selling you.

He said people don't realize just how much such companies want to piece together your data from many different sources in order to have a complete picture of your behavior and, indeed, your inner self.

Apple, he said, believes in doing the right thing. Now, that's a seductive argument, also used by some parents to explain how wrong their children are.

Cook said: "We don't have access to your messages. We don't think you want us to know the intimate details of your business and personal communication. I don't have a right to know that. We don't keep any of that. We don't scan it for the things you say about your Hawaii trip so that we can then sell you targeted advertising. Could we make money from it? Of course. But it's not in our values system."

It's quaint to think companies still maintain values. Some might sniff, as have executives from Google and Motorola, that Apple's values include gouging the maximum (and unreasonable) amount of cash from every consumer.

Moreover, it is we who so gleefully give up our privacy in exchange for flimsy conveniences like posting our vacation Speedo shots for all to see.

Cook, though, seems to believe that his company's governance ought to be an example for his country's government.

He said: "It is a cop-out to say: choose between privacy or security. There is no reason why customers should have to select one. There is no reason not to have both."

This sounds like an argument couched in purely business terms. However, it's surely an encouragement to governments all over the world to consider whether its citizens' private lives do have a value.

Isn't part of protecting your country protecting the private selves of the people who live in it?