Tech: Apple throws the privacy rule book at rivals
Apple’s CEO is calling for federal regulation of his Silicon Valley competitors’ use of personal data, said Sam Schechner and Emre Peker in The Wall Street Journal. In an extraordinary speech in Brussels, Tim Cook last week took aim “at rivals including Facebook and Google that have grappled with recent scandals involving access to personal information.” Cook, using “language more common from privacy activists than tech CEOs,” attacked the collection of “deeply personal data” that makes much of the online ad industry possible. “This is surveillance,” Cook told an audience that included Europe’s senior tech regulators, “and these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.” The head of the biggest U.S. tech company pressed for a robust federal privacy law modeled on Europe’s—under which Facebook currently faces a fine of as much as $1.63 billion—while taking a pre-emptive swipe at rivals who claim to support rules but “lobby behind closed doors to weaken any initiative.”
The crisis in tech “has presented plenty of opportunities for Apple to take the high road,” said Brian Feldman in NYMag.com. There’s a reason Cook can easily endorse strict privacy regulations: “They pose no real threat to Apple’s bottom line.” Apple makes most of its money when you buy your phone, anyway. The real motivation here is to strike at Google, said Ian Scales in TelecomTV.com, because “Android is still a juggernaut globally, and as always it’s threatening Apple’s smartphone position.” Apple’s best strategy to counter Google’s free licenses, brilliant technical support, and constant software upgrades is “to chip away at Google’s data-collecting business model.” Meanwhile, Apple itself collects as much as $9 billion a year from Google for making Google’s search the default setting on its devices. “So much for the evils of surveillance.”
“Regulation is coming whether tech companies like it or not,” said Russell Brandom in TheVerge.com, and their best option is to “get on board.” Cook’s “full-throated” call for privacy rules has made headlines, but Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have all backed some version of a new privacy law. Apple is less worried than other tech companies about limits on web tracking, “but that doesn’t mean the company has nothing to lose in this fight.” There’s face recognition built into the iPhone, and “the Apple Watch collects lots of personal health and medical data.” Apple is also “deeply committed to doing business in China, which brings its own privacy issues.” The good news for Apple is that the draft bills now floating through Congress don’t threaten any of that. Delivering “fiery speeches” showing off Apple’s support for privacy rights helps make sure it stays that way.