Apple CEO Tim Cook Says The Government Should Help Consumers Track Their Data

Written by Ann Brown

The control of consumer data has been a major debate and now Apple CEO Tim Cook has weighed in, calling for reform to protect consumers and their data in an essay he wrote for Time magazine.

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Cook urged consumers to fight for change and for their rights. He wrote: “In 2019, it’s time to stand up for the right to privacy — yours, mine, all of ours. Consumers shouldn’t have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives.”

Cook continued, “One of the biggest challenges in protecting privacy is that many of the violations are invisible.”

Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an event to announce new products Tuesday Oct. 30, 2018, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

In the essay, Cook also explained how data collection works. When a consumer buys a product from an online retailer, information about that purchase is transferred a data broker, who then packages the information and sells it to another buyer. The consumer is never told of this process. Cook not only wants consumers to be informed about this process but says they should be allowed to opt out.

“The trail disappears before you even know there is a trail,” Cook wrote. “Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked — out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers. Let’s be clear: You never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, ‘Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.’”

Cook wants the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to create a “data-broker clearinghouse” that “requires all data brokers to register, letting consumers track the transactions that have been bundled with other data and sold from place to place, ‘and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all’,” USA Today reported.

And he urges the U.S. Congress to pass “comprehensive federal privacy legislation.”

Some experts say Congress might just do this.

“At the risk of being an optimist, there is reason to believe that this Congress will pass substantial privacy legislation,” said Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), according to USA Today. “There are several factors that have made privacy a legislative priority for many members on both sides of the aisle.”

Cook has long called for transparency and is now urging other tech companies to follow suit.

Former Facebook security executive Alex Stamos accused Cook of not practicing what he preaches. In a series of tweets in October, Stamos said Apple blocks privacy-enabling services like end-to-end encrypted messaging apps and installing VPNs on its devices in China. He also said that Apple recently moved its iCloud data to a state-owned telecom company, Business Insider reported.

China is an “ethical blind spot” for many tech companies, Stamos said.