Apple CEO blasts tech companies, feds in defense of privacy

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook fired a shot across the bow of other major technology companies that profit from data collected from their users as he defended consumer privacy and encryption.

While he did not name Google, Facebook and Twitter specifically, there was little doubt who he was criticizing in a speech as he was being honored by the Electronic Privacy Information Center last week. He also took on Washington politicians' efforts to remove encryption tools from technology products as having a "chilling effect" on First Amendment rights, TechCrunch reported.

Some observers, like CNBC's Jim Cramer, saw this as a thinly veiled promotion of Apple Pay, and Cook was addressing retailers by stating that Apple "doesn't want your data."

"[This may be] a pitch to Target and Wal-Mart, saying 'we will not take your data if you use Apple Pay,'" Cramer said. "This is Tim Cook not just taking aim at his competitors, but saying [companies] should adopt Apple Pay."

The speech was delivered remotely. "I'm speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that's wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be," Cook said, according to TechCrunch.

Talking more specifically about user privacy, he said, "We don't think you should ever have to trade it for a service you think is free but actually comes at a very high cost. This is especially true now that we're storing data about our health, our finances and our homes on our devices."

Apple designs its products to "collect the minimum amount of data necessary to create great experiences," Cook said.

Customers should be in control of their own information. "You might like these so-called free services, but we don't think they're worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose. And we think someday, customers will see this for what it is."

Cook has previously taken the same position, like at President Obama's Summit on Cybersecurity earlier this year, an event not attended by several other prominent technology CEOs.

He also spoke about the government's efforts to access the keys to private encryption. "Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data," Cook said. "We think this is incredibly dangerous. We've been offering encryption tools in our products for years, and we're going to stay on that path."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been waging a war on "pervasive encryption," claiming it is an enabler of terrorism. "If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people's accounts. If they know there's a key hidden somewhere, they won't stop until they find it," Cook said.

"Removing encryption tools from our products altogether, as some in Washington would like us to do, would only hurt law-abiding citizens who rely on us to protect their data. The bad guys will still encrypt; it's easy to do and readily available," he said.

"We want to build products that keep people's information safe."

For more:
-See this TechCrunch article
-See this CNBC article

Related stories:
At summit, President orders cybersecurity efforts, PCI applauds
Apple Pay on a roll, signs Best Buy, Discover
RadioShack aims to sell customer data, breach privacy policy
Kroger buys dunnhumbyUSA assets, launches new data company
Where have all the hackers gone?