Apple chief executive Tim Cook speaks during an event to announce new products on Oct. 30 in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)
Apple chief executive Tim Cook argued in an interview with Axios that aired on HBO Sunday that the tech industry’s approach to privacy reflects a failure of the free market, and that government regulation is “inevitable” in the face of missteps by platforms such as Google and Facebook.
Cook said that he was no fan of regulation and that he prefers markets to operate unimpeded. But Silicon Valley needs to get with the program, he said.
“We have to admit when the free market is not working,” Cook said, “and it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation. I think Congress and the administration at some point will pass something.”
The interview marks the latest attempt by Cook to distance his company from other tech giants as they increasingly come under scrutiny for their role in spreading misinformation and hate speech and losing control over customer data.
Apple has emphasized in recent weeks that it is unlike social media platforms because its business model depends on selling hardware such as smartphones and tablets and not selling targeted advertisements based on user information. In a speech last month in Brussels, Cook called for stronger privacy rules in the United States and said Apple “celebrates” the passage of recent privacy regulations in Europe that many others in the tech industry opposed.
But Cook on Sunday faced questions over his company’s ties to Google — in particular, why Apple continues to take billions of dollars from the search giant, making it the default on Safari and iOS, when Apple rejects the tactics that have made Google what it is.
Cook defended the agreements, saying simply that Google’s search engine “is the best,” and that Apple-designed features have helped safeguard users from prying.
“We have private Web browsing. We have intelligent tracking prevention,” he said. “We come up with ways to help our users through the course of the day. It’s not a perfect thing, but it goes a long way in helping.”
Cook’s remarks add fuel to the brewing policy battle in Washington, where industry groups and policymakers have been discussing what principles ought to guide the government as it explores an intervention. In the coming months, the Trump administration and a reshaped Congress will likely be faced with interpreting the fault lines in the debate.
Telecom and cable companies have been urging for a single federal standard that applies to Internet providers and tech companies alike. Meanwhile, consumer groups have pushed for rules that treat reputational damage from a loss of privacy as seriously as financial harms.
Tech industry advocates have called for policies that protect user privacy while not hindering innovation. But on Sunday, Cook called that “a false choice.”
“This is not a matter of privacy versus profits, or privacy versus technical innovation,” he said. “Your device has incredible intelligence about you, but as a company I don’t have to have that.”