Apple CEO Tim Cook is no stranger to criticizing other tech companies for monitoring their users’ data. Now he’s upping the ante – indicating that such data collection could soon become a widespread problem for society as a whole.
“I deeply fear the loss of privacy,” Cook, 61, said. “If we start feeling watched all the time, then our behavior changes. We start doing less. We start thinking about things less. You start changing the way you think. In a world like this where you you hold back, [it] changes society in a major way.”
Several studies show that humans behave differently when they know they are being watched. In 2018, researchers from a Dutch university found that participants “cheated significantly less” on tests when cameras were present. In a Axios survey published in 2019, some participants said being monitored affected their behavior, and 48% said monitoring could lead them to change their behavior at work.
Cook’s comments join a chorus of recent controversies surrounding tech companies and user data. Last month, more than one million Illinois residents received checks worth up to $397 after Facebook settled a $650 million class action lawsuit. According to the plaintiffs, the platform collected facial recognition data without the user’s consent – which is illegal under Illinois state law.
Google Photos is in the midst of a similar lawsuit, and as CNBC reported in 2017, all of Google’s platforms — including Gmail, Google Docs, and the company’s eponymous search engine — store information like such as your phone number, location data and the websites you have visited.
Google maintains that it does not sell the personal information it stores, but rather uses it to organize personalized advertisements for its users. The company recently announced tools to help users request removal of their personal data from its search results.
Google, Amazon and even Apple have also come under fire for collecting and reviewing audio samples from smart home systems. Google and Amazon have finally acknowledged their use of the practice with Google Assistant and Alexa, offering opt-out options to users. Apple, which is generally considered more privacy-conscious than most of its rivals, has gone further by apologize and suspend its “human ranking” practice on all Siri services.
Despite the myriad privacy concerns in the tech world, Cook noted on Tuesday that a surveillance-focused future is not yet a foregone conclusion. He said he was “optimistic” that tech companies will develop more ways to respect individuals’ data, although he did not say whether these changes would be driven by altruism, lawsuits or the threat of federal regulations.
“It’s hard to say that a company, or anyone for that matter, should be able to step in and – on an uninformed basis – suck up your data,” Cook said.
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