Apple’s boss praised EU data privacy laws (Aris Oikonomou)

Brussels (AFP) – Apple CEO Tim Cook on Wednesday said the United States needed a federal privacy law because personal information was being “weaponized” by companies against internet users to boost profits.

“We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States,” Cook told a conference in Brussels.

Gossip, he said, had become a lucrative trade for the internet giants.

“Today that trade has exploded into a data industrial complex. Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency,” Cook said.

“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance,” Cook said. “And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”

Unlike internet giants Facebook and Google, Apple’s business model does not rely on the collection and commercial use of its users’ personal data.

The company mostly sells hardware, but also increasingly streaming, payment and storage services.

Data protection has become a global concern following breaches of personal data from tens of millions of internet and social media users.

Cook said a US privacy law should allow for personal data to be minimized and force companies to de-identify customer data or not collect this information in the first place.

Users should also have the right to know what data are being collected and what for, and get to decide what collection is legitimate, and which is not.

– ‘Europe got it right’-

“Anything less is a sham,” Cook told the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.

He applauded European Union work on the protection of privacy, especially its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that took effect in May.

“We should celebrate the transformative work of the European institutions tasked with the successful implementation of the GDPR,” he said.

“It is time for the rest of the world — including my home country — to follow your lead,” Cook said.

The European Commission welcomed Cook’s remarks, saying they indicated that the EU was on the right track in terms of data protection.

“If companies like Apple commit to taking data protection issues seriously and discovered this is something that also the consumer wants, then I think that this confirms once more that Europe got it right with the GDPR,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

Speaking on video, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the conference his company had much work ahead to improve security following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“We share the values behind GDPR,” Zuckerberg said.

“This year, we learned from issues we faced, and we dramatically restricted the information people can share with developers when they install apps,” he added.

“We’ve reduced the ways advertisers can target ads. And we’re building a tool so people can clear their history of all browsing activity off Facebook.”

Facebook was hit early this year with a scandal over the harvesting of tens of millions of its users’ data by Cambridge Analytica, a US-British political research firm, for the 2016 US presidential election.

Another scandal followed months later.

On October 3, in the first major test of the GDPR, Ireland’s data protection authority launched a probe into a security breach at Facebook in September that exposed 50 million accounts.

Meeting in the French city of Strasbourg, the European Parliament is due Thursday to vote a resolution urging Facebook to carry out a complete audit to evaluate data protection.

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