Apple's Cook says ads that follow you online are 'creepy'

The CEO talks with MSNBC and Recode about everything from Facebook's foibles to NRATV's presence on Apple TV, and the need for everyone to learn to code.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
9 min read
James Martin

Even Tim Cook thinks online ads can be creepy.

The Apple CEO, in a dig at social media giant Facebook, said in an MSNBC interview that aired Friday that everyone should know how much data they're sharing and what can be inferred about us from that information. He added that privacy "is a human right" and said he's worried about how advertisers and others can abuse access to our data. 

"To me it's creepy when I look at something and all of a sudden it's chasing me all the way across the web," Cook said. "I don't like that."

The comments came as part of a wide-ranging interview between Cook, MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Recode's Kara Swisher. MSNBC broadcast the special, named "Revolution: Apple changing the world" at 5 p.m. PT on Friday. The interview was taped the day after Apple's education event in Chicago, where the company introduced a new 9.7-inch iPad and tools for teachers. 

Watch this: Highlights from Apple's March iPad event in Chicago

The two publications released some early clips and comments from Cook over the past couple of weeks. That included remarks he made about Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cook noted that Apple purposely chose not to make "a ton of money" off its customers' data and that Facebook failed to effectively regulate itself, prompting a need for government intervention. 

Along with Facebook and its privacy issues, Cook talked up DACA and immigration, tax reform, the changing job landscape and the need for everyone to learn coding, among other topics. 

CNET reviewed a transcript of the interview and picked out some of Cook's other comments for you. 

Tech can't replace teachers

The main reason for MSNBC/Recode's interview with Cook was Apple's education announcements. The company is making a big push to woo teachers and schools after its earlier problems with digital textbooks and pricey iPads. 

Cook during the interview noted that "education is the great equalizer of people." That's why Apple has been pushing its new Everyone Can Code curriculum to teach people how to make apps and other software. 

"We don't believe that technology can replace teachers. ... Our products are tools. And we make tools for people to be able to amplify their performance. Right? They help people, not replace people."

We should all learn how to code

"Everyone needs to learn to code. I think that in today's environment, software touches everything we do all day long, from the way you get your news to the way you order things. Software is nothing more, or coding is nothing more than a way to express yourself. It's a languageThe core skills in coding -- critical thinking, problem-solving -- these are things that are modern-day skills required for living. ...

"It's not our expectation that everybody becomes a software programmer for life, by any means. The vast majority will not. But it's important that people understand the basics of coding, just like it's important for people to understand the basics of mathematics or other kind of core subjects."

AI and robots will replace a lot of jobs

Not every job that exists today will be made obsolete by artificial intelligence, but some will, Cook said. Still, he noted that it's not "doom and gloom."

"Jobs will be cannibalized over time and replaced by others. And now, those people that embrace that, they're going to do incredibly well, and certainly the system to help people retrain has to be put in place and largely needs a lot of work right now to do that, but I think there are going to be incredible jobs in AI, AR. I'm a huge fan of augmented reality. I think it is huge. ...

MSNBC Specials - Season 2018

MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Recode's Kara Swisher interview Apple CEO Tim Cook after the company's education event in Chicago. 

Jeff Schear/MSNBC

"We've had this significant productivity change in the United States for a long time, and there have been jobs that have been displaced, but frankly, many more jobs have been created than displaced. What we didn't do a good job of is taking care of the people that were displaced and getting them into the jobs that were being created. That is a muscle the US has not done a good job of building."

We all work too much

"I think that all of us should count on there's an element of what each of us do that will be automated over time. And part of that, by the way, we should all say thank God because we're all working too much. Wouldn't society be great if we all work a little less, but we didn't have to dial down our output? That wouldn't be so bad, but I do think that we all have to get used to the idea of continually learning, refreshing our skills for the jobs of tomorrow. The jobs of tomorrow right now are heavily software-based. If you look in this country today, there's a half a million jobs that are not being filled; they're all software."

The corporate tax reform is 'good for America'

Apple has nearly $300 billion in cash, and most of that's held overseas. As part of the new US tax plan, the company will pay $38 billion in taxes to bring the money back to the US. Apple said it plans to invest $30 billion in the US over the next five years by building a new campus and creating 20,000 new jobs. Factoring in current spending, product sales tax and taxes on employees' wages, Apple said it expects to contribute $350 billion to the US economy over that period.

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"The corporate piece [of the new tax regulations] I do believe is good for America because I think what the result of it will be is America will have higher investments," Cook said on MSNBC. 

Cook doesn't feel political pressure

"I don't feel political pressure. Look, what we want to do at Apple -- we know that Apple could only have been created in the United States. We know that. This company would not have been started in any other country in the world. It would not have flourished in any other country in the world. The vast majority of our research and development is done here. And -- and so we love this country. ... We want to create as many jobs as we can in the US. We don't need any political pressure for that. We're already been doing this."

Building in the US

Apple has said it plans to create a new big office somewhere in the US. In the MSNBC interview, Cook said the office won't be in California or Texas, two locations where it already has many employees. And it won't hold an Amazon-style competition.

"We're not doing the ... beauty contest kind of thing. ... That's not Apple," Cook said

"I think the great thing about the US is freedom. And I think if states want to compete for things, then ... God bless them. I think that's -- that's sort of, that's a part of America. And so I don't ... condemn it. I think it's their decision. But from our point of view, we didn't want to create this contest. Because I think -- because I think what comes out of that is you wind up putting people through a ton of work to select one. And -- and so you wind up [with] a case where you have a winner and a lot of losers, unfortunately. I don't like that."

Apple gets to choose what's in its App Store

"We curate. We believe that ... we don't want porn on our App Store. .. We want families to be able to feel comfortable there. ... We don't want hate speech on our App Store, right? And we don't want the ability to recruit terrorists on the App Store. ...

"And so, we're looking at every app in detail, what is it doing, is it doing what it's saying it's doing, is it meeting the privacy policy that they're stating, right? And so, we're always looking at that. Should we raise the bar even more? We're always looking at improving and raising the bar. But we do carefully review each app and police now. And we don't subscribe to the view that you have to let everybody in that wants to or if you don't, you don't believe in free speech. ...


Tim Cook checked out the demo room last week at the company's Chicago education event. 

James Martin/CNET

"What you sell in that store says something about you and if you don't want to sell that other thing, you don't sell it. It doesn't mean that you can't use an iPhone to go to your browser and go to some porno site, if you want to do that, but ... it's not what we want to put in our store."

But it won't remove NRATV from the App Store -- unless it becomes hate speech

"We don't want to take a view that throttles the public discourse on something, right? Public discourse is an important part of democracy. ... Democracy without discourse is not a democracy, right? And so, now do I like their tactics, their positions? Honestly, no, and some of the things they've said are unbelievably distasteful, and I don't even think represent their members well, right, from the people that I know from my heritage in the South and so forth. 

"But their point of view, along with the alternate point of view, I think it's actually important for the public to hear that, and I wish it could be done in a not vitriolic tone and ... all of the accusation and personal attack that is on there. I don't subscribe to any of that at all. And you can bet that we continue to monitor and if it walks into the path of hate speech or some of these other things then we're cutting it off."

Apple would battle the FBI all over again

Apple in 2016 fought a high-profile battle against the FBI over creating new software to unlock an iPhone used in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack. Apple took the FBI to court to avoid having to create what it called a backdoor into all iPhones. The US Justice Department dropped the case before it could be heard by a judge.

"I'm not eavesdropping on your messages and on your phone calls, and don't think I should be in that position," Cook told MSNBC. "If that same circumstance rose again, we would fight. Because this ... again, is a value of America, right? You should not be able to compel somebody to write something that is bad for civilization. Right? This is a fundamental wrong."

Cook's 'deeply offended' by DACA's repeal

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, more commonly referred to as DACA, is a controversial Obama-era immigration program that helped undocumented immigrants who arrived to the US as children work and study without the fear of deportation. They're referred to as Dreamers. President Donald J. Trump made repealing the law a campaign promises, and Congress hasn't found a way to allow those immigrants to remain in the US. Apple has been one tech company calling for DACA to be preserved

"The DACA situation is one that I am truthfully, as an American, deeply offended by," Cook told MSNBC. "The DACA situation is not an immigration issue. It's a moral issue. This is a moral issue, and this is one that goes to the core of who we are as Americans. Who among us would think that it's the right thing to do to kick somebody out of this country that came here when they were one, two, three-years old, that have only known this country as their home, that know no other country as their home. This just doesn't make any sense. ...

"The Attorney General should not have revoked it. Whoever revoked it should not have done this. And I don't see this as a partisan issue. This is not about whether you're red or blue, conservative or liberal. This is about America, right? This is that simple. And so, I'm very disappointed with both parties that they have not acted."

Tech needs to diversify

"Tech needs to increase diversity in a major way," Cook said. He added that Silicon Valley needs to create jobs and help make sure America "is welcoming to people." Cook also criticized some recent happenings -- including the US' limits on immigration -- but said he believes "the arc for America points in the right direction." 

Apple itself has struggled to move the needle in diversifying its employee base. In its last diversity report, released in November, Apple said it had made some progress in hiring more minorities. But when it came to women, its efforts fell flat. Only about a third of Apple employees as of July 2017 were women, the same level as last year, the company said. When it came to underrepresented minorities, Apple reported a 1 percentage point increase to 23 percent.

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