Technology has shrunk the world. Thanks to the internet and hardware made by companies such as Apple, we now live in a global village. However, the way in which we share information is controlled by tech giants, who can also store it, analyse it and exploit it for profit or power. Speaking at a data privacy conference in Brussels last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook considered the pros and the cons of technological progress.

Tim Cook (American accent): these are transformative times. Around the world, new technologies are drivingbreakthroughs in humanity’s greatest common projects. From preventing and fighting disease, to curbing the effects of climate change, to ensuring every person has access to information and economic opportunity. At the same time, we see vividly – painfully – how technology can harm rather than help. Platforms and algorithms that promised to improve our lives can actually magnify our worst human tendencies. Rogue actors and even governments have taken advantage of user trust to deepen divisions, incite violence and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.


The time has come, said Cook, to take action, to ensure that our privacy is protected.

Tim Cook: Technology is capable of doing great things, but it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us. We at Apple believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. But we also recognise that not everyone sees it that way.


Applauding Europe’s data protection regulation, Cook called for similar privacy legislation in the United States to prevent what he called the “weaponisation” of personal data.

Tim Cook: In a way, the desire to put profits over privacy is nothing new. As far back as 1890, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis published an article in the Harvard Law Review, making the case for a right to privacy in the United States. He warned: “Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade.” Today that trade has exploded into a data industrial complex. Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponised against us with military efficiency. We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance! And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.


Cook sets Apple apart from such mercenary companies, citing its humble beginnings. Yet, as he explained, Apple and its competitors are responsible for the social impact of technological advancement.

Tim Cook: At Apple, respect for privacy – and a healthy suspicion of authority – have always been in our bloodstream. Our first computers were built by misfits, tinkerers and rebels; not in a laboratory or a board room, but in a suburban garage. We are responsible, however, for recognising that the devices we make and the platforms we build have real, lasting, even permanent effects on the individuals and communities who use them. We must never stop asking ourselves: “What kind of world do we want to live in?” The answer to that question must not be an afterthought, it should be our primary concern.