Apple takes 'very different view' on customer privacy, Cook says

Apple's CEO tells Charlie Rose that Apple is not in the business of collecting customers' personal information.

Apple CEO Tim Cook sits down with PBS's Charlie Rose to talk shop. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

Attempting to set Apple apart from its Silicon Valley brethren who have been caught up in a government surveillance scandal, Apple CEO Tim Cook says the iPhone maker is not in the business of collecting its customers' personal information.

In the final installment of a two-part interview with Charlie Rose, Cook said Apple has taken a "very different view" about the collection of customer information than other companies.

"Our business is not based on having information about you. You're not our product," Cook said. "Our products are these, and this watch, and Macs and so forth. And so we run a very different company. I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money. And if they're making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried. And you should really understand what's happening to that data, and the companies -- I think -- should be very transparent."

As opposed to Google, which scans their customers emails to sell targeted advertising, or Microsoft says it sometimes performs the same task to prevent spam or malware, Cook points out that its proprietary iMessage text messaging platform doesn't allow that kind of activity.

"We're not reading your email. We're not reading your iMessage," he said. "If the government laid a subpoena on us to get your iMessage, we can't provide it. It's encrypted and we don't have the key."

Indeed, the encryption used in Apple's chat service has stymied attempts by federal law enforcement agents to eavesdrop on suspects' conversations, an internal government document revealed last year. Discussing a February 2013 criminal investigation, an internal Drug Enforcement Administration document seen by CNET last year warned that because of the use of encryption, "it is impossible to intercept iMessages between two Apple devices" even with a court order approved by a federal judge.

Cook also said that he believes the government erred in its data-collection efforts, which reportedly sought a great deal of customer phone, email, and metadata information from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

"I think it's a tough balance," Cook said. "And I don't think that the country or the government's found the right balance. I think they erred too much on the collect-everything side. And I think the president and the administration [are] committed to kind of moving that pendulum back."

In the interview, which airs Monday night on PBS, Cook also touches on human rights and the environment. The first part of the interview aired Friday.