Time has published an article written by Apple CEO Tim Cook arguing in favor of stronger U.S. privacy laws.
The article was published under the headline “You Deserve Privacy Online. Here's How You Could Actually Get It.” Much of the article rehashes what Cook has said before, which can be summarized by what he believes are the four basic privacy rights:
“First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.”
A new proposal regarding the regulation of data brokers is a bit more novel. These companies violate all of those principles by gathering as much information as possible, in secret, with no guarantee of its security. And most people can’t do a single thing about it.
This setup isn't just invasive; it's dangerous. Just consider the Equifax hack, or this Motherboard report about how easy data brokers make it to buy personal information, or any of the other examples of just how much data is traded without true oversight.
Here’s what Cook wants to do about that:
“We believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.”
Those protections would be in addition to stronger federal laws regarding consumer privacy, too, and not just for data brokers. They get their data from somewhere, and that list of sources includes tech companies. Which is where Apple’s self interest comes in.
Many tech companies make their money by selling information about their users. That's why so many services are free—the monetization occurs behind the scenes with data sharing deals or advertising platforms. See: Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Apple makes its money by selling devices. That affords it the opportunity to limit data collection and, naturally, use privacy as a marketing tool. It sees demand for non-invasive tech and it’s more than happy to meet that demand with its products.
Stricter privacy laws wouldn't be a win for Apple because of Cook’s personal beliefs. They’d be a win for Apple because so much of its competition relies on for-profit surveillance to survive. So you have to consider that when executives back policy, even if it may benefit many people.