BRUSSELS – Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook issued on Wednesday the tech giant’s strongest call yet for a United States-wide privacy law, citing the European Union’s new data-protection rules as a benchmark to counter corporate abuses of personal information.
Cook’s push came at an international conference on data and privacy organized by the EU, which in May enacted the General Data Protection Regulation in a bid to both improve user rights and bolster the 28-member bloc’s power as a global rule-maker with tough standards.
“It is time for the rest of the world, including my home country to follow your lead,” Cook said at a keynote address at the European Parliament in Brussels. “We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal law in the United States.”
Unlike Europe, the US doesn’t have an overarching legislation. Instead, companies face a patchwork of privacy rules across states, including a package that California recently enacted over the objections of some tech companies, and federal laws covering specific topics like protection of health information.
A US-wide regulation could put Apple, with its strong emphasis on being a privacy-conscious company, at a relative advantage compared with Facebook and Alphabet’s Google – both of which have grappled with massive data breaches.
In a sideways swipe at the company’s rivals, Cook said while most companies voice public support for data regulations they lobby behind closed doors to weaken any initiative.
“Technology is and must always be rooted in the faith people have in it,” the Apple chief said. “We also recognize not everyone sees it that way – in a way, the desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new.”
Cook has been calling for tougher privacy laws as part of an effort to insulate Apple from a wave of privacy scandals that have buffeted the technology industry.
Facebook admitted in March that it had allowed the data of up to 50 million users to be given to Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google had exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of its Google+ social network. Google chose not disclose the issue earlier this year, partially due to concerns over regulatory blowback.
Apple gets relatively better marks from privacy activists and regulators in Europe for its protection of users’ privacy. The company, for instance, uses encryption to protect its devices and says it keeps sensitive information, like facial profiles, on individuals’ devices, rather than its servers.
More recently, Apple has been tightening the rules it applies to developers of third-party apps for its devices, as well as giving users more privacy controls over things like which apps have access to a user’s location data.
Cook has argued that because Apple makes the bulk of its money by selling devices, rather than advertising, that it has far less incentive to exploit its customers’ data.
“Today, that trade has exploded into a data-industrial complex,” he said. “Our own information – from the everyday to the deeply personal – is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”