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Apple CEO Tim Cook says digital privacy 'has become a crisis'

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 5/5/2019 Lisa Eadicicco
Tim Cook wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © Richard Drew/AP

Apple CEO Tim Cook called online privacy a "crisis" in an interview with ABC News, reaffirming the company's stance on privacy as companies like Facebook and Google have come under increased scrutiny regarding their handling of consumer data. 

"Privacy in itself has become a crisis," Cook told ABC's Diane Sawyer. "It's of that proportion - a crisis." 

Unlike companies such as Google and Facebook, Apple's business isn't focused on advertising, and therefore it does not benefit from collecting data to improve ad targeting. 

"You are not our product," he said. "Our products are iPhones and iPads. We treasure your data. We wanna help you keep it private and keep it safe."

Cook cited the vast amount of personal information available online when explaining why privacy has become such an important issue to address. "The people who track on the internet know a lot more about you than if somebody's looking in your window," he said. "A lot more."

Cook is known to be a vocal advocate for consumer privacy. In January, he published an op-ed in Time calling for government regulation that would make it more difficult for companies to collect data while providing more transparency for consumers. He also urged for a crackdown on data brokers that transfer consumer data between companies. Before that, he appeared on Vice News Tonight and voiced his support for government regulation. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during the Time 100 Summit event on April 23, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images) Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during the Time 100 Summit event on April 23, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images) Apple doesn't benefit from gathering data about consumers, as companies with booming advertising businesses would. But it does make money from its partnership with Google that secures its search engine as the default on the iPhone's Safari browser. Apple and Google haven't disclosed the terms of their agreement, but Goldman Sachs analysts estimated in September that Google could pay Apple as much as $12 billion in 2019.

Sawyer pointed out that Apple profits from its deal with Google, which has come under scrutiny regarding its data collection policies and privacy concerns. Cook said it works with Google "because we believe it's the best browser."

Password code on the touch screen phone. Password code on the touch screen phone. Although Cook described privacy as a crisis, he added that he believes it's a "fixable" problem. "And we just have to, like we've done every other point in time, when we get together it's amazing what we can do. And we very much are an ally in that fight."

Cook also addressed the mounting concerns about screen time in his interview with ABC News, saying he doesn't want consumers using their iPhones too much. "But I don't want you using the product a lot," he said. "In fact, if you're using it a lot, there's probably something we should do to make your use more productive."

The comments come after a report from The New York Times found that Apple had removed apps that help parents manage screen time from the App Store following the release of its own screen time management feature for the iPhone in September.

Apple then published a statement saying it removed those apps because they were using a technology known as mobile device management, or MDM, that's intended for businesses that need to handle sensitive data on employee devices.

Cook told ABC News he's open to suggestions from parents when it come to screen time management and parental controls, saying that it's "something that we together need to fix."

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