StephenLoosley at outlook.com
Sat Oct 27 10:56:29 AEDT 2018
Friday, October 26, 2018 For the latest updates, go to nytimes.com/bits
Apple Goes on the Attack
This past week the news out of the world’s most valuable public company, Apple, was not a new gizmo or doodad, but rather a withering critique of the technology industry from one of its most prominent members.
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, rebuked his peers in a speech to European officials on Wednesday by criticizing Silicon Valley for building a “data industrial complex” in which our personal information “is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”
As a result, he said, algorithms have magnified our worst tendencies and “rogue actors and even governments” have used our data against us “to deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.”
In one piercing portion, Mr. Cook criticized how companies like Facebook and Google — while taking care not to mention them by name — deliver personalized news feeds that lead to so-called filter bubbles and confirmation bias.
“Your profile is then run through algorithms that can serve up increasingly extreme content, pounding our harmless preferences into hardened convictions,” Mr. Cook said. “If green is your favorite color, you may find yourself reading a lot of articles — or watching a lot of videos — about the insidious threat from people who like orange.”
He continued: “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”
Whew. Those are strong words, particularly from one of tech’s most powerful people.
Mr. Cook and Apple have been clear leaders in Silicon Valley in protecting user privacy. But the speech also struck some in the tech industry as self-serving.
Apple’s business model relies on people buying more iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and other gadgets, many of which don’t need much user data to work well. Google, Facebook and increasingly Amazon, however, have prodigious advertising businesses that rely on building detailed profiles of what people read, buy and like.
In his speech, Mr. Cook endorsed “a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” which could help undercut the businesses of Apple’s rivals.
Software made by Google and Apple, for instance, backs nearly all of the world’s smartphones. Apple built such a strong smartphone business by offering sleek, high-end devices that — as Apple has increasingly advertised lately — value your privacy.
Google has captured most of the global market, particularly in the developing world, by giving its software away to phone makers. In return, Google has historically forced them to put its free services front and center on devices. That prompts people to conduct more Google searches, watch more YouTube videos and ask for more directions on Google Maps — all activities that allow Google to collect more personal data and serve more personalized ads.
Mr. Cook and Apple clearly don’t like that approach.
But the market proves that plenty of people would rather opt for a cheap Android phone — essentially paying with their personal data and dealing with more ads — than splurge on an iPhone. (The cheapest new iPhone is $750.)
Other technologists, such as Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former security chief, called Mr. Cook hypocritical for trumpeting the importance of privacy when Apple is so deeply intertwined in China.
Apple recently began storing its Chinese users’ data on servers in China run by a state-owned company.
Apple has said it, not its Chinese partner, retains the encryption keys for that data, but the company regularly complies with lawful data requests from governments around the world.
In the last six months of 2017, Apple said, it provided data from about 580 accounts to the Chinese government, compared with about 5,905 to the American government.
Apple has also taken other moves at the behest of the Chinese government, such as removing apps from its App Store in China that help people circumvent the government’s internet censorship and even news apps like the The New York Times.
Apple has argued that it complies with the laws of the countries it is in, and that it is better served by trying to change China from within than from the sidelines..
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