Apple’s Tim Cook Blasts Silicon Valley Firms for Selling Off Privacy

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Apple CEO Tim Cook talks to media members during an Apple event in San Francisco on October 22, 2013. Cook argues that, once created, this technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Apple CEO Tim Cook has made some of his strongest comments to date on digital privacy and security.

Speaking remotely on Monday night as he accepted the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center’s (EPIC) Freedom Award, Cook criticized other Silicon Valley companies that mine users’ data to target advertising and make money. The comments seemed to be directed at tech giants like Facebook and Google, which are known for monetizing user data.

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” Cook said. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Cook went on to make an apparent jab at Google’s new product, Google Photos, which promises free unlimited media storage at no cost.

“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information,” he continued. “You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose. And we think someday customers will see this for what it is.”

Cook then discussed encryption and how all levels of law enforcement are trying to get tech companies to provide the “master key” into their products and give them access to consumers’ data.

“We think this is incredibly dangerous,” he said. “If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.”

Cook added, “We’ve been offering encryption tools in our products for years, and we’re going to stay on that path. We think it’s a critical feature for our customers who want to keep their data secure.”

The event was the first time the EPIC has honored a business leader with the award.