Apple CEO Tim Cook on Thursday called on US Congress to pass a new, comprehensive federal privacy law — one that would give every American access to the personal data being collected about them by technology companies, and the ability to delete it.
"In 2019, it’s time to stand up for the right to privacy — yours, mine, all of ours," Cook said in an op-ed for Time magazine published early on Thursday. "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."
Specifically, Cook said he would like to see the Federal Trade Commission establish a "data-broker clearinghouse." This would require data brokers — companies that invisibly gather data on users as they browse the web — to register, so that consumers could track the data collected on them and where it has been sold. From that central clearinghouse, Cook said, people should be able to delete their data "on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all."
Cook's op-ed is a further refinement of Apple's longtime emphasis on privacy, which the company has asserted is a quality that sets it apart from other tech companies. Last year, in a speech at a privacy conference in Brussels, Cook criticized social media giants for their abuse of user privacy, saying the business of selling ads against personal data has become a "data industrial complex" and that people's personal information is "being weaponized" against them "with military efficiency." (It's worth noting, however, that Apple has a lucrative agreement with Google that allows the search giant to place its engine — which harvests what users are searching for to allow ad targeting — on Apple’s Safari web browsers, on Siri, and elsewhere on Apple devices.)
Cook's statement also comes at a time of increasing scrutiny and anger over how other tech giants — Facebook and Google, in particular — collect and handle user data. Facebook last year was embroiled in a scandal over how it allowed consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica to gain access to the information of 87 million users. Later in 2018, the company also disclosed that at a security issue involving Facebook access tokens could have exposed millions of users’ personal information, including email addresses, phone numbers, genders, locations, birth dates, and recent search histories.
Meanwhile, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before Congress in December, covering, among other things, Google’s business and privacy practices and how they affect its billions of global users. Last year, the company came under fire for Project Maven, a controversial military contract, as well as Dragonfly, a censored search app for the China market that privacy advocates decried as a violation of users' rights to free speech and privacy, because Google had agreed to cooperate with the Chinese government for the project. After criticism from the public and its own employees, Google said it would let the Maven contract end and that it was not working on Project Dragonfly "right now."